Worrying rise of 'lifestyle cancers'
CANCER is on the rise in Singapore - especially those linked with bad habits associated with modern lifestyle, including smoking and eating too much.
According to figures from two years ago, which are the latest available, 12,123 people were diagnosed with cancer, up from 10,576 in 2008. This marks an increase of nearly 15 per cent.
One reason for these numbers, said National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) director Soo Khee Chee, is an ageing population. The NCCS is Singapore's leading cancer treatment and research centre.
"In developed countries like ours, people are living longer. Previously, people would die before they got cancer."
But what is more worrying is how "lifestyle cancers", such as prostate, breast and colorectal cancers, are contributing to the rise.
Prostate cancer cases went up by 52 per cent from 2003 to 2012, when cases of breast cancer also rose, by 25 per cent.
These cancers are among the top three most commonly found in men and women respectively. They are also known as "developed-world cancers" because they are associated with the lifestyle in these countries.
A factor that increases the chance of getting cancer is smoking, said Professor Soo. "Overall, the rate of smoking is moving downwards, but there is a trend of more younger people here taking it up."
Health Promotion Board figures from 2010 showed that 16 per cent of young people aged 18 to 29 smoked regularly, up from 12 per cent in 2004.
Other factors contributing to the rise of cancer here are poor diet and lack of exercise, because we are "overfed and eating the wrong food", said Prof Soo.
Having fewer children and having them later also increase a woman's chances of getting cancer, he added.
Cancer remains the No. 1 killer in Singapore, with 30 per cent of deaths in 2011 caused by the disease. This is five times more than deaths caused by accidents, violence and poisoning together.
But the outlook is not all bleak.
The chances of getting cancer can be lowered dramatically by modifying one's lifestyle. Stopping young people from smoking, for instance, "will almost decrease cancer deaths by a third if we succeed", said Prof Soo.
Some of the most common cancers are also those that have the highest survival rates.
Breast cancer - the most common cancer in women - has a five-year overall survival rate of 89 per cent. This means that 89 of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer were still alive after five years.
The corresponding figure for lymphoma sufferers is 70 per cent, while that for colon cancer is 60 per cent.
"Cancer is not a death sentence," said Prof Soo. "It would be a pity if cancer patients go into despair or give up because they think that way."