Proton beam therapy could be available here by next year
Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings set to introduce cutting-edge method for treating cancer here
It costs more, but proton beam therapy can target cancer cells with greater precision - and it could be available in Singapore by next year.
The Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings (SAM) announced yesterday that it has finished installing the cutting-edge ProBeam Proton Therapy System at its Proton Therapy Centre in Biopolis.
The centre, which is scheduled to open early next year, cost about $150 million to build.
Dr Kwek Boon Han, SAM's chief medical officer, said proton therapy uses about 60 per cent less radiation compared with conventional radiation therapy, which uses X-rays or gamma rays.
This results in a lower risk of damage to healthy tissue around the tumour.
"To get sufficient radiation to the tumour in conventional therapy, a large dose is applied to the tissue before reaching the tumour. There is also a significant remaining dose of exit radiation that affects normal tissue after hitting the tumour," Dr Kwek said.
A proton beam, on the other hand, concentrates a high radiation dose only at specific target points using a thin "pencil beam" that outlines and "fills in" the region with the tumour in a manner similar to 3D printing.
This means healthy tissue on the beam's path to the tumour receives only a low dose, and there is no exit radiation as the beam does not go beyond the target area.
Dr Kwek added that proton therapy will halve the incidence of secondary cancers that can develop as a result of radiation treatment from 12.8 per cent to 6.4 per cent.
SAM's chairman and chief executive officer, Dr Djeng Shih Kien, said proton therapy is especially helpful for cancers that are difficult to reach without affecting sensitive organs nearby, such as brain, spine, head and neck cancers.
Conventional radiation therapy currently costs $25,000 to $30,000.
Proton therapy at the centre will cost up to thrice as much and require about the same number of sessions, Dr Djeng said.
SAM is working with insurance agencies to include proton therapy in their coverage, he added. The centre plans to treat about 400 patients a year when it first opens and sessions will last between 20 and 30 minutes. A patient can require as many as 30 sessions.
Dr Djeng said that SAM is also planning to set up a foundation to help defray the costs for patients who cannot afford it.
The Ministry of Health had earlier indicated that there will be regulations on the types of cancer for which proton therapy should be covered by i nsurance, but it has not yet been able to confirm the guidelines.
Two other proton beam systems will also be available at the National Cancer Centre Singapore and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital from 2021.