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Singapore MPs battling nose cancer: Some key facts about rare disease


An estimated 300 patients are diagnosed with nose cancer every year in Singapore. iStock
An estimated 300 patients are diagnosed with nose cancer every year in Singapore. iStock

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

The disease’s silent onset makes early detection challenging, highlighting the importance of understanding its risk factors and symptoms.

Nasopharyngeal cancer predominantly affects Chinese individuals, especially those of southern Chinese descent, 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.”

Early symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer may be minimal, including nosebleeds, headaches, blocked ears, nasal blockages, and blood-stained phlegm. However, as the disease progresses, patients may experience neck lumps and double vision. 

Dr Eu highlights the challenge in diagnosing nose cancer, as it is often silent in its onset, requiring immediate medical attention for confirmation or ruling out the disease.

The Singapore Cancer Registry’s 2020 report reveals that nose cancer is the second most common cancer in men aged 40 to 49 and the third most common in men aged 30 to 39. It also ranks as the ninth most frequent cause of male cancer deaths. Besides affecting men, nasopharyngeal cancer has a genetic predisposition to the southern Chinese ethnicity.

Treatment for early-stage nasopharyngeal cancer often involves radiation therapy for approximately six to seven weeks. Additionally, chemotherapy may be administered alongside radiation for locally advanced cases to improve survival rates. Fortunately, nasopharyngeal cancer shows high sensitivity to chemotherapy and radiation treatment, offering a higher chance of cure if detected early and treated appropriately.

To prevent nasopharyngeal cancer, experts recommend cutting down on salted and preserved foods, which may contain carcinogenic nitrosamines. A healthy diet with fresh fruits, green vegetables, and antioxidants can help lower the overall cancer risk. Patients with a family history of the disease should undergo regular screenings to facilitate early detection and treatment.

Early detection is key to successful treatment, and blood tests for the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may aid in early identification of nasopharyngeal cancer. Moreover, medical imaging techniques like MRI, CT, and PET scans can determine the stage of the disease for appropriate treatment.

The brave MPs’ battle against this rare nose cancer highlights the importance of raising awareness about its symptoms, risk factors, and proactive measures for early detection. 


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