Posted on Apr 14, 2015 by Travis Jones
Singapore is sunny, hot and humid. That’s great weather for enjoying lazy afternoons at the beach (the beaches of artificial island Sentosa are perennial favorites), but beware – protection from the sun is essential. Skin cancer is the sixth most common cancer in Singapore and exposure to the sun’s UV rays is, according to many doctors, the biggest risk factor in developing this type of cancer. Sadly, skin cancer is on the rise according to the World Health Organization, and it’s also deadly – killing more than 50,000 people globally each year.
People living in sunny climates or close to the equator must take more precautions to protect themselves from overexposure to the sun. Simple, preventative measures to protect yourself from melanoma and other skin cancers include limiting time in the midday sun (UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), wearing protective clothing and sunglasses to protect skin and eyes, and using (as well as reapplying often) a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
The facts on Singapore
Only 85 miles from the equator, Singapore sees more sun and harsher UV rays than many other countries in the Southeast Asian region. Various research, including a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, shows that as in much of the rest of the world, skin cancer incidence in Singapore is growing. At the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress 2014, conference attendees heard from National Skin Centre Singapore dermatologist Suzanne Cheng that cases of skin cancer in Singapore between 2009 and 2014 had jumped to almost 3,000, from a high of 1,813 between 2003 and 2007.
That rise in skin cancer is most likely due to a few factors. As we age we are more susceptible to all types of cancer, and Singapore’s aging population could account for some of the increase in skin cancer cases. At the same time, young people in Singapore are taking part in more outdoor activities than their parents, tanning outdoors and even artificially tanning – all of which are skin cancer risk factors.
The good news is that skin cancer is often preventable – and new developments in medical technology make it even easier for doctors to assess and mitigate a patient’s skin cancer risk. Mole mapping, for example, is becoming more and more popular as a means of early skin cancer detection. To map moles, a doctor will use microscopic imaging to take photos of a patient’s moles. These images can then be stored for reference at future visits – helping a dermatologist see whether or not a patient’s moles are rapidly changing, an early sign of cancer. Patients can even take home their initial mole map and use those pictures to do regular self-assessments for changes in the size, texture or color of moles.
Mole mapping is painless and generally takes 30 minutes or less. Costs vary depending on the patient’s residency in Singapore: at a public hospital such as the oft-recommended National Skin Centre, non-resident patients without access to Singapore health care subsidies will pay around SG$100 per consultation, whereas residents will pay around SG$45. With a private dermatologist, patients can expect to pay around SG$120 for the initial mapping, and up to $400 if the doctor decides to excise and examine potentially malignant moles. General laboratory or check-up costs could also add to the final bill.
Protection in addition to prevention
Many expats and even local Singaporean residents hold a private or workplace insurance plan – to find out if your plan covers mole mapping, get in touch with your insurer. Although some insurance companies don’t specifically list mole mapping as a benefit, the service is often included under coverage for preventative care or a general dermatology visit.
The importance of early detection in skin cancer prevention cannot be overstated – with timely treatment the cure rate for basal and squamous cell skin cancers (the two most common skin cancer types) is 95 percent. Even melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has a 5-year survival rate around 97% if the disease is detected early.
Besides mole mapping, patients with a hereditary skin cancer risk can reduce their chances of getting skin cancer by doing regular self-assessments. It’s a good idea to meet with a dermatologist to understand how often you should examine your moles and what changes or irregularities to look for. A dermatologist may also recommend a biopsy – in which a skin sample is removed and examined for cancerous cells. In cases where the cancer may have already spread, a CT or MRI scan or an X-ray may be necessary to evaluate the extent of cancerous damage. These preventative measures will normally be covered by a Singaporean or global health insurance policy, but check with your provider to find out if there’s an additional deductible or co-pay for visiting a skin care specialist. Do be aware that the lowest-tier coverage plans might not provide for any preventative treatment – so if skin cancer is a concern, it’s a good idea to upgrade coverage or purchase supplementary insurance before cancer can turn into a pre-existing condition.
If the worst should happen and skin cancer is detected, the good news is that Singapore has a comprehensive and modern network of oncologists and facilities that can assist in cancer treatment. Both public and private hospitals in Singapore offer microsurgery, cryotherapy and radiation therapy, all of which are appropriate for removing malignant cells from the skin with limited damage to the rest of the body. In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend chemotherapy to stop the spread of cancerous cells to other parts of the body.
Most insurance plans cover outpatient and inpatient cancer care, but if you’re at-risk for skin cancer, check with your provider to be sure. It’s also a good idea to find out if your plan covers remission or just the primary occurrence of the disease. Patients who have been successfully treated for skin cancer are, unfortunately, at a much greater risk than the general population for developing that cancer again.
For questions regarding insurance and what you are covered for, you can always reach out to the knowledgeable experts at Pacific Prime Singapore with any questions you have. Contact them today for information or quotes on great International Medical Insurance plans.