Dr Lim Hong Ling is a senior medical oncologist with more than 25 years of experience in the field. In addition to general medical oncology, he has a special interest in lung cancer, as well as head and neck cancers.
Earlier in March, Star Lifestyle had an opportunity to sit with Dr Lim at the Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore. He shared his vast experience regarding cancer - lung cancer in particular.
“We can only prevent cancer if we know the cause,” said Dr Lim. “And at least for lung cancer, studies have identified smoking as the major risk factor.”
Harmful chemicals in smoke damages lung cells and overtime these damaged cells may become cancerous. This is why smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars can contribute to lung cancer.
“If you are a non-smoker, do not start. And if you are, stop immediately,” this was the basic suggestion of this experienced oncologist.
Dr Lim also observes a steady rise of women smokers, which may have increased the predominance of cancer in the overall population, but current findings show that in Singapore at least, men have a three times higher chance of getting lung cancer than women. Smoking by pregnant women may also prove harmful for the unborn child.
“Although smoking is the biggest risk factor, other contributing agents may include carcinogens like radon, exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel and air pollution”.
In a country like Bangladesh where air pollution is high, the continual increase in the number of lung cancer patients can be associated to it.
“Air pollution can increase the chance of getting cancer by 1.5 times. However, smoking can increase it by 15 times. So the importance of awareness against consumption of tobacco cannot be undermined,” said Dr Lim.
Early stages of lung cancer often do not show symptoms, but as the disease spreads some signs are evident – a cough that is not healing, breathing problems, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, a hoarse voice, frequent bouts of pneumonia, dramatic weight loss, etc.
“Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer,” and the doctor continued, “but if you have any of these symptoms, consult a physician who may look into the matter in-depth.” Physical examination, chest X-ray and CT scans are often done to diagnose lung cancer.
“Screening lung cancer is a major problem. Regular chest X-rays often prove inadequate as well, so CT scan in the way to go,” opined the renowned oncologist.
“There are several types of lung cancers, and once cancerous cells in the lungs are detected, the exact form is identified along with the stage of cancer, which essentially shows how much the disease has spread in the body,” said Dr Lim.
Lung cancer spreads most often to the lymph nodes, brain, bones, liver and adrenal glands.
Depending on the stage of the lung cancer, the aims of treatment may be for cure, control of disease for prolongation of survival or management of symptoms and prevention of complications to improve quality of life.
Sometimes, radiotherapy is used to contain the cancerous cells before surgical removal of the malignant tissues. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs, which once in the bloodstream can affect cancer cells all over the body. And finally there is targeted therapy that uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells all over the body. Sometimes, a combination of these methods is used.
“Treatment of cancer often requires multidisciplinary intervention. At Parkway Cancer Centre, we are capable of providing that exact holistic approach to treating not just lung cancer, but all forms of carcinoma,” said Dr Lim Hong Ling.
For more information on cancer treatment at the Parkway, contact Parkway Hospitals Singapore Pte. Ltd. (Dhaka Office), Suite B3, Level 4, House 10, Road 53, Dhaka. +88-2-8850422.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif