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Selective focus female doctor looking at the Mammogram film image (Source : Shutterstock).

Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine to introduce proton beam therapy for cancer by early next year

A proton beam therapy system will be available to cancer patients by early next year, the Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings (SAM) said on Tue (14 May).

The ProBeam Proton Therapy System, which has been successfully installed at the institute’s Proton Therapy in Biopolis in Buona Vista, will use approximately 60 per cent less radiation in comparison to the conventional X-ray or gamma ray radiation therapy.

SAM’s chief medical officer Kwek Boon Han said that the risk of damaging healthy tissues surrounding the cancer site will be reduced as a result of the lower level of radiation.

Dr Kwek told The Straits Times: “To get sufficient radiation to the tumour in conventional therapy, a large dose of radiation 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,” he added.

In contrast, a proton beam targets specific sites using a thin “pencil beam” that outlines and “fills in” the region with the tumour in a method similar to 3D printing, ST reported.

Proton therapy, added Dr Kwek, will reduce the likelihood of secondary cancers stemming from radiotherapy by half, from 12.8 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

SAM chairman and chief executive officer Djeng Shih Kien told ST that proton therapy will mostly benefit patients with brain, spine, head and neck cancers, due to its ability to navigate such sensitive organs with precision.

“Normal radiation therapy can come with severe complications. You may go blind or lose your hearing from being treated for head and neck cancer,” added Dr Djeng.

However, a downside to proton therapy is its astronomical costs, which may cost thrice the expenses required for conventional radiation therapy. Conventional radiation therapy in Singapore costs approximately S$25,000 to S$30,000, he added.

To add to that, patients may require as many as 30 sessions.

Recognising the hefty costs involved in proton therapy, SAM will be collaborating with insurance agencies to include the therapy under their coverage.

The institute will also establish a foundation to reduce costs for patients who are not able to afford paying for proton therapy.

Starting 2021, the National Cancer Centre Singapore and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital will also be utilising proton therapy as one of the treatments for cancer patients.