An account of how a woman in Singapore overcame breast cancer in spite of her then-existing debt and negative experience with alternative “treatments” for her cancer was carried on local media website Mothership (24 Oct 22). It is a story that is inspiring, but also saddening and infuriating. Inspiring because of how she was able to beat the odds, but saddening and infuriating because of the way non-effective or even seemingly downright deceitful alternative treatments were sold to her. In many ways, hers is a cautionary tale not just about alternative treatments for cancer, but for how we deal with cancer and the possibility of cancer as a whole.
In this Perspectives piece, we will start with a look at the alternative treatments for cancer that was offered to Ms Phang (the lady in the account), before examining the other learning points we can take away from her experience.
Alternative Treatments For Cancer That Did Not Work
Ms Phang was initially diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer sometime in 2017. She was said to have decided to pursue alternative treatments for her breast cancer as she was at that time in debt, and wanted to manage her treatment costs. The cost for treating her breast cancer was estimated to be at least S$100,000 for chemotherapy or S$15,000 for surgery. She was also concerned about the impact of conventional cancer treatment on her fertility.
Ms Phang, who had returned to Indonesia following her cancer diagnosis, decided on seeing a purported TCM practitioner. She was prescribed a herbal tea for her cancer that cost S$80 per serving. She took the herbal tea daily for 3 months, spending a total of S$7,200. However, she reportedly did not feel “any different” after taking the tea.
Ms Phang stopped her herbal tea treatment and was introduced to yet another set of ineffective treatments sold by a Multi-Level-Marketing company. The products that she ended up buying at a cost of some S$9,000 included “oral supplements, a water filter, and a bra containing stones that could allegedly absorb toxins from [her] breasts”. Unsurprisingly, these did not work either.
Dangers Of Ineffective Alternative Cancer Treatments
The non-effective alternative treatments that Ms Phang tried in had fact done substantial damage to her. Firstly, there was financial damage. A considerable sum of some S$16,200 was spent which could have done towards paying for conventional cancer treatment by doctors.
Delay In Getting Conventional Treatment
The experiment with alternative treatments had also resulted in delay in starting conventional treatment, and adversely impacted Ms Phang’s prognosis. When she returned to Singapore later in 2017, it was discovered that the cancer had progressed from Stage I to Stage III. Advanced breast cancer is more difficult to treat successfully – Stage III breast cancer has a lower 5-year survival rate of 40% compared to 90% for Stage I. If she had not spent the time with alternative cancer treatments, she could have started conventional treatment earlier while the cancer was still at Stage I.
Herbal Remedies And Potential For Toxicity
The silver lining in this case, is that the herbal remedies consumed by Ms Phang did not appear to have hurt her health in other ways, such as inducing kidney damage. While there is no doubt that Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used effectively to treat various conditions over thousands of years, poorly administered herbal medication can result in toxicity that damages the kidneys. This is true for western medicines as well, where contamination and other causes can turn even everyday medicines like cough syrup deadly.
Other Takeaways From Ms Phang’s Experience – On Cancer Screening, Treatment And Cancer Insurance
Any One Form of Cancer Screening May Not Be Failproof
The account reported that Ms Phang had experienced tightness in her breast as early as 2010. She went for breast screening (presumably mammogram screening) and physical examination. No tumours were found, but doctors had advised to her to see a specialist as the tugging sensations in the breast were “not normal”. Standard mammography, while being a very reliable screening method, may still fail to pick up tumours, e.g. when they are hidden by dense or overlapping breast tissue. Other screening methods such as Tomosynthesis (3D mammography) or biopsies may be required.
Do Not Let Fear Put You Off From Cancer Screenings Or Seeking Appropriate Treatments
It was mentioned on a number of times in the Mothership account that Ms Phang had delayed followup screening and treatment due to various apprehensions. While these were totally understandable emotions, the outcomes were ultimately detrimental to her health as they delayed treatment. Early detection of cancer can save lives. Do not put off going for screenings and for treatment.
The Importance Of Medical Insurance Coverage To Buffer The Cost Of Cancer Treatment
The cost of private cancer treatment in Singapore can going well into the 6-digits. This makes it difficult for most people in Singapore to fund treatment on an out-of-pocket basis. Going for affordable subsidised treatment in a public hospital (applicable for Singaporeans) is of course a perfectly fine option, but for those who prefer the option of private medical care or are not eligible for Singapore government subsidies, then financial protection using insurance such as Critical Illness Insurance or Cancer Insurance will be helpful or even essential.
You can read more about cancer drug treatment funding and how we can financially protect ourselves from the cost of cancer in our webinar summary article (Let’s Talk – Understanding the Cost of Cancer Treatment and How We Can Manage the Cost of Cancer). Our expert speakers (Dr Wong Siew Wei – Senior Consultant, Parkway Cancer Centre & member of our Expert Advisory Board, and Ms Pamela Chong, Associate Manager, TN Advisory Group) talked on these important issues.
This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.