He wants to bring hope to liver cancer patients
Head of new liver cancer study says chances of survival are improving
It can get scary when liver cancer recurs.
But patients should not lose hope as research in this field is developing, said National Cancer Centre Singapore's senior consultant surgical oncologist, Professor Pierce Chow.
He gave the example of a cancer survivor whose cancer recurred at least three times over seven years.
"Each time it returned, doctors were able to treat it because medical advances allowed him to get new and better treatment," said Prof Chow who added that the man, who was first diagnosed in his 40s, is alive and doing well today.
At present, there is no adjuvant care - therapy after the cancer is removed - to prevent liver cancer from recurring, but Prof Chow hopes a major clinical and translational research study launched in October can change that.
Prof Chow, who is the principal investigator, said the study will use precision therapy to give personalised treatment that will suit the characteristics of a specific patient's cancer.
"Liver cancer patients should not lose hope because doors have really opened.
"There have been more developments in this field in the last 10 years than in the last 50 years," said Prof Chow, who is also a course director at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School's Office of Clinical Studies.
Liver cancer is the fourth most common cancer among men in Singapore, after colorectum, lung and prostate, with 2,254 cases between 2010 and 2014.
It is also among the top-five killer cancers for both men and women, even though it does not fall among the common women's cancers.
In the past, liver cancer was considered fatal and a patient's chances of survival were slim.
It's different now.
However, researchers still have much to catch up, compared to breakthroughs in breast and colorectum cancers.
Liver cancer recurs 70 per cent of the time, and that number is a safe estimate, which could worsen depending on the stage at which the cancer is operated on, said Prof Chow.
About 95 per cent of all recurrences occur within three years of surgery.
Each time Prof Chow finds out that one of his patients has relapsed, he feels a pang of disappointment.
"But by continuing this research, I can give them a lot more than just pain medicine or palliative care, I can give them better outcomes," he said.
"I want there to be something for them to look forward to, and one less reason for them to give up hope."
Docs want to tailor treatment through study
Two months ago, a major clinical and translational research study was launched to offer new patients the chance to get personalised treatment if liver cancer strikes again.
The study, which will recruit patients from National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), National University Health System and Singapore General Hospital (SGH), will allow for tumours to be removed, cut up and sent to various institutions for in-depth analysis.
"Liver cancer is unique to the patient, and within a patient's tumour can be different cancer profiles," said SGH senior consultant surgeon, Associate Professor Brian Goh. Through this, doctors hope that if the cancer recurs, they will have learnt enough about it to tailor treatment to the patient. Patients scheduled for surgery will be offered the chance to take part and there are no added risks.
Follow-ups will be done every three months and treatment - such as liver function tests - will be free.
Those interested in taking part may go to NCCS or the other participating institutions, or contact NCCS' Sherlynn Tan at 9108-5430 or firstname.lastname@example.org