$100m machine to kill tumours more precisely

It is a highly advanced form of treatment for cancer that eliminates tumours more accurately, similar to taking out a terrorist without destroying an entire village.

Cancer patients here will be able to receive such treatment from a $100-million, state-of- the-art machine when the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) sets it up at its Proton Therapy Centre.

The machine will be located at the NCCS' new building in Outram, expected to be ready in 2017.

NCCS is raising funds to buy the proton-therapy machine.

NCCS medical experts said yesterday that proton-therapy treatment is able to precisely target tumours with less damage to surrounding healthy tissue, as compared to conventional X-ray radiation therapy.

NCCS will be the first to offer proton therapy in Singapore and South-east Asia. There are 39 such proton-therapy centres worldwide.

When ready, treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre is set to help 1,000 patients per year.

NCCS director Soo Khee Chee said that using protons to kill cancerous cells will benefit patients with tumours near critical organs, like the spinal cord.

Children suffering from cancer will also benefit greatly from the treatment, said Dr Fong Kam Weng, deputy head of NCCS' department of radiation oncology.

He said that children have a lower risk of developing a "second cancer" from proton therapy, as compared to conventional X-ray radiation therapy.

But Dr Fong added that X-ray therapy "is still very relevant".

Professor Soo explained: "In cases where there will not be significant collateral damage (to surrounding tissue), such as in breast and skin tumours, conventional X-ray therapy will do just as well."

Proton therapy typically costs much more than X-ray therapy. Still, NCCS has committed to make proton therapy affordable.

Patients who qualify for government subsidies will pay an estimated $13,000 for 15- to 30- minute sessions over the course of six weeks of proton therapy.

This is similar to what a patient pays for a type of conventional X-ray radiation therapy - the image-guided radiation therapy - after government subsidies.


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