Reality check: cost of battling cancer in Singapore
Talking about cancer has become less taboo in Singapore. This increased willingness to tackle the topic is understandable, with 35-36 people being told each day that they have cancer1.
It’s a long and tough battle, but more people are surviving for a longer time, both in Singapore2 and globally3.
Emotionally, no one will ever be fully prepared for a cancer diagnosis. But you have a say in preventing cancer, and lightening the burden of cancer treatment costs.
Cost of cancer treatments in Singapore
Cancer is expensive to treat in Singapore, as it is in most parts of the world.
As information about average treatment costs are not readily available, we’ve gathered the best estimates we can find for the common procedures and treatments:
- Biopsies: a few hundred to a few thousand dollars
- Operations to remove tumours: a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars
- Chemotherapy: a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
You’ll notice that it is a wide range. That’s because It’s difficult to generalise given the wide range of cancers, stages, and specific complications involved. The actual cost of treatment will depend on:
- The condition being treated;
- Length of treatment (for chemotherapy);
- How complex the procedure is; and
- Whether it is done at a public hospital (subsidised) or at a private hospital.
To give you an idea of what’s involved, we have compiled the cost of procedures related to some of the more common cancers in Singapore.
Cost of procedures related to common cancers in Singapore
|Condition/Procedure||Total bill paid by 50% of patients
(Typically includes doctor’s consultation fee, ward charges, medication, tests, etc.)
|Public hospitals / centres (Subsidised)||Public hospitals / centres (Unsubsidised)||Private hospitals / clinics|
|Chemotherapy||Ward B2: S$2,059
||Not available||Inpatient: S$5,117
|Lung scope (bronchoscopy) with biopsy and surgery to remove tissue||Ward B2: S$3,008
||Not available||Inpatient: S$20,422
|Lungs with abnormal growth, but not very severe complications||Ward B2: S$1,322
||Ward A: S$3,656
|Lungs with abnormal growth, and very severe complications||Ward B2: S$2,649
||Ward A: S$10,190
|Colonscopy for diagnosis (with/without biopsy)||Ward B2: S$1,765
||Ward A: S$4,737
|Surgery to remove part of the large intestine||Ward B2: S$5,391
||Not available||S$ 37,903|
|Surgery to remove part of the end of the large intestine, and rectum||Ward B2: S$5,569
||Ward B1: S$23,041||S$47,321|
|Surgery to remove cancerous growth in breast and underarm lymph nodes||Ward B2: S$2,083||Not available||Inpatient: S$23,423|
|Day surgery to remove single growth in breast||S$919||S$2,863||Inpatient: S$9,125
|Surgery to remove entire prostate and surroundings||Ward B2: $10,590
||Ward A: S$26,244||S$53,326|
|Endoscopy with/without biopsy||Ward B2: S$1,561
||Ward B1: S$3,079
|Stomach, liver or pancreas cancer, but not very severe complications||Ward B2: S$1,924
||Ward A: S$3,455
Source: Ministry of Health, ‘Fee benchmarks and bill amount information’, accessed on 15 July 2019.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Firstly, reduce your risk of getting cancer. That’s because 30-50% of cancer cases worldwide could actually have been avoided5
And that means knowing these facts.
- Your genes are important, but are not everything
Genetic factors may predispose you towards cancer, but it’s not the only important thing. Only 5 to 10% of all cancers are caused by genetic mutations that were passed down from our parents, according to the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS)6.
To quote the SCS, “having an inherited genetic mutation does not mean you will definitely get cancer later in life.”
Even if no one in your family has had cancer before, it doesn’t guarantee you immunity. After all, cancer is caused by gene mutations, and these can also happen through exposure to smoking, radiation, cancer-causing substances (e.g. asbestos), even viruses.
- Your behaviour and lifestyle choices matter
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), making these lifestyle choices increases your risk of developing cancer:
- Using tobacco, (this includes cigarettes and smokeless tobacco)
- Being overweight or obese
- Unhealthy diets with low fruit and vegetable intake
- Lack of physical activity
- Using alcohol
- Sexually transmitted HPV-infection
- Infection by hepatitis or other carcinogenic infections
- Ionizing and ultraviolet radiation
- Urban air pollution
- Indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels
Avoiding these 10 risk factors reduces the risk of developing cancer. Of these 10, tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer, and is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer-related deaths globally.
To prevent cancer, the WHO advises that people:
- Increase avoidance of the risk factors listed above
- Vaccinate against HPV and hepatitis B virus
- Control occupational hazards
- Reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation
- Reduce exposure to ionizing radiation (occupational or medical diagnostic imaging)
- Your vaccinations and health-screenings should be up to date
Do not underestimate the power of a jab. 1 million cancer diagnoses could have been prevented by vaccination against the HPV and Hepatitis B viruses.
In addition, do not underestimate the usefulness of health-screenings. That’s because medical advances have made many forms of cancer treatable. A cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Early detection through regular screenings can reduce mortality rates.
If you’re wondering, the Singapore Cancer Society’s series of posters will help you decide if that lump, weight loss, or nose bleed is worth a doctor’s visit.
Secondly, familiarize yourself with the government schemes and private insurance that you can use to pay for cancer treatments.
That’s because cancer is the fight of a lifetime. Emotionally, it’s tough. Financially, there is help at hand from government schemes and private insurance.Part 2: Why cancer care insurance is worth considering.
1 National Registry of Diseases Office, 19 June 2017. ‘Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Registry Report 2015’.
2 The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015. ‘More in Singapore getting cancer, but survival rates also up’.
3 The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2018. ‘Global cancer survival rates up but progress uneven’.
4 Ministry of Health, retrieved 12 July 2019. ‘Principal Causes of Death’.
5 World Health Organisation, accessed 15 July 2019. ‘Cancer Prevention’.
6 Singapore Cancer Society, accessed 15 July 2019. ‘Cancer Myths Debunked’.