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What we know about rare nose cancer affecting Singapore MPs?


Members of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa (left) and Baey Yam Keng were both diagnosed with early-stage nose cancer.
Members of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa (left) and Baey Yam Keng were both diagnosed with early-stage nose cancer.

Singaporean Members of Parliament (MPs) Liang Eng Hwa and Baey Yam Keng have been diagnosed with a rare form of nose cancer, known as nasopharyngeal cancer. 

The silent onset of this rare cancer poses challenges for early detection. Experts reveal crucial facts about the disease to raise awareness among the public. 

Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is a disease that develops from tissues in the nasopharynx, the passageway behind the nose that connects to the respiratory system and the ear. It predominantly affects Chinese individuals, particularly those of southern Chinese heritage, and is more prevalent in males aged 30 to 60. According to Dr Donovan Eu, a consultant in Otolaryngology, “Nose cancer is fairly common in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and mostly affects Chinese people.”

The rarity of nasopharyngeal cancer poses challenges in its early detection, as symptoms often remain silent in the initial stages. Dr Eu explains, “The difficulty in diagnosing nose cancer, in general, is that it is particularly silent in its onset.” 

Symptoms like blood-stained nasal or throat discharge, blocked ear, and enlarged lymph nodes may not manifest until the tumor has invaded surrounding structures. MP Liang Eng Hwa’s experience highlights this issue, as he sought medical attention only after months of muffled hearing in his left ear.

Fortunately, advancements in treatment have improved the survival rates for nasopharyngeal cancer. Dr Ivan Tham, a radiation oncologist, shares that “non-metastatic NPC, or tumors that have not spread below the collar bones, generally have a higher cure rate of treatment.” Treatment options include radiation therapy, with chemotherapy added for more advanced cases.

Experts stress the importance of early detection for a better chance of cure. Dr Tay Hin Ngan, an otorhinolaryngologist, advises regular screenings, especially for those with a family history of the disease. Blood tests for the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can also aid in early detection.

As the incidence of NPC remains high in Singapore, raising awareness about the disease and its risk factors becomes crucial. By understanding the symptoms and potential risks associated with nasopharyngeal cancer, individuals can take proactive measures for early detection and timely treatment.


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