The Heavy Cost of Cancer Treatment in Singapore (2020)

Cancer is a huge topic in Singapore.

Not only does it cause the most number of deaths in a year, the costs to treat it can be astronomically high.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Factors that influence the costs
  • The different types of treatments and the costs associated with them
  • How to finance these costs
  • … and much more

Read on!

TL;DR (Summary)

cancer treatment cost Singapore

Late-stage cancer treatments in Singapore can cost $100,000 to $200,000 a year (or $8,400 to $16,700 a month)

Why is Cancer a Big Issue in Singapore

While Singaporeans enjoy a high average life expectancy compared to other countries, it comes with downsides.

Firstly, they spend more years in ill-health now. 10.6 years to be exact.

Secondly, cancer contributes to 28.8% of all deaths – it is the leading cause of death in Singapore.

causes of death

And lastly, the lifetime risk of developing cancer in the Singapore population is estimated to be one in every four to five people.

When we look at life insurance claims statistics, cancer is the top cause of death claims…

causes of death claim

AND for critical illness claims too.

causes of critical illness claims

With all of these facts and statistics, how can one ignore the topic of cancer?

Other than the health aspects being a concern, the financial impacts of contracting cancer are considerable.

There are 2 types of costs: the cost of treating it and the cost of not being able to work because of it.

We’ll address both of them.

The 4 Most Common Cancers in Singapore

Before we move on to the costs, let’s just narrow down to the more common cancers in Singapore.

This allows us to take a deeper look into just the top few.

common cancers in Singapore

Here are the top 10 cancers for men:

Type of CancerPercentage
Colo-rectum17.2%
Lung14.8%
Prostate13%
Liver7.5%
Lymphoid Neoplasms6.8%
Skin5.8%
Stomach4.7%
Nasopharynx3.8%
Kidney & other urinary3.4%
Myeloid Neoplasms3.2%

Here are the top 10 cancers for women:

Type of CancerPercentage
Breast29.1%
Colo-rectum13.4%
Lung7.5%
Uterus6.9%
Ovary5.4%
Lymphoid Neoplasms4.4%
Skin4.2%
Thyroid3.8%
Stomach3.4%
Cervix3.1%

From this data, these are the top 4 cancers in Singapore:

  • Colo-rectum
  • Breast
  • Prostate
  • Lung

Factors that Influence the Cost of Cancer Treatments

In the bigger picture, medical costs are increasing at much faster pace at 10% per year. This inadvertently brings up the average cost of hospital bills.

But let’s just narrow down to cancer for now.

Most believe that cancer treatments are expensive due to how intense it is and the lengthy duration for a full recovery.

Not only that, but complications do also arise…

Relapses do happen…

Conditions can get worse.

But not all cancers are the same.

Here are some factors that will influence the costs of treating cancer:

1) Stage of Cancer

Generally at diagnosis, the later the stage of cancer, the higher the costs for treating it.

At a more advanced stage, the treatment is likely to be more intensive and a more aggressive approach might be needed.

Unconventional cancer treatments might be proposed and they will be much more expensive.

2) Potential for Complications

The type of cancer that one has relates to the location of where it resides.

If it’s at or near a vital organ, then it increases the complexity to treat it. For example, more complex procedures might be needed to surgically remove the cancer.

And when complications do arise, the patient’s body condition might be severely weakened, thus leading to greater care and support needed.

3) Preferred Hospital and Wards

“I want the best.”

When it comes to our own health and survival, we want the best (if possible). The thought of death is scary not just for ourselves but for our family members too.

It is common for Singaporeans to search for the best oncologists.

best oncologist in singapore

But the price of a 1-bedder ward and/or surgeries in a private hospital can be hard to digest.

There are still other costs (which can be more costly) than just the ward charges.

4) Treatments Needed

Depending on the patient’s condition, there is a multitude of treatments that may be available.

A combination of a few may be needed.

It should be known that the earlier you detect cancer, the greater the probability to reduce/eliminate the damages, which leads to fewer treatments needed.

At the later stages, more will be needed.

Needless to say, the longer the duration of the treatments, the higher the costs.

The Different Types of Costs in Cancer Treatments

There are various ways to treat cancer.

They can be split into two sections: Diagnosis and Treatments.

1) Cost of Diagnostic Tests & Screenings

At times, we might not know whether we have cancer until it’s too late.

It takes more than just checking for lumps.

That’s why it’s good to go for regular screenings and check-ups because earlier detection (and treatment) leads to better outcomes.

Without proper diagnosis, you won’t ever get to the treatment phase.

Examples of such diagnostic tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Health screenings
  • MRI scans
  • CT scans
  • PET-CT scans
  • Colonoscopies
  • Mammograms
  • Biopsies
  • etc

A concoction of various tests might be needed to detect and diagnose properly.

NOTE
Even after treatments are done, you might still need to do these tests regularly to check whether the cancerous cells are still there.

In most cases, imaging tests will come first.

These are the CT, MRI, PET-CT scans, etc. They are done first because they are less intrusive ways to detect cancer.

At Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a PET-CT scan costs $2,400.

If imaging tests don’t manage to define the abnormality, a biopsy might be needed.

A biopsy is done to extract a sample of tissue from the body

The tissue will then go through further analysis to determine whether it’s cancerous.

It can be done as a day-surgery or as an inpatient depending on how invasive it is to get the sample.

Here are some costs of biopsies:

Type of CancerType of HospitalAverage Bill Size
BreastPrivate$4,056
Public (Unsubsidised)$1,967
Public (Subsidised)$634
LungPrivate$4,258
Public (Unsubsidised)$2,210
Public (Subsidised)$637
ColorectalPrivate$2,590
Public (Unsubsidised)$2,020
Public (Subsidised)$576
ProstatePrivate$4,024
Public (Unsubsidised)$1,493
Public (Subsidised)$453
Note: Bills listed can be either for inpatient or day surgeries. Data shown have at least 30 cases/year. Figures are updated from time to time.

2) Cost of Surgeries

Once the cancer is properly diagnosed, the patient might be recommended to go for a surgery.

A cancer surgery is the oldest and most effective type of treatment.

It is an operation to cut open the body and remove the cancer and/or healthy tissues surrounding it (to ensure all the cancer is removed).

For example in breast cancers, a surgeon might remove a portion of the breast or the whole breast.

How a surgery is performed can also affect the cost – whether it’s an open surgery or a minimally invasive one.

Surgeries can also be paired with other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Here are some costs of surgeries:

Type of CancerType of HospitalAverage Bill Size
BreastPrivate$23,844
Public (Unsubsidised)$10,205
Public (Subsidised)$2,079
LungPrivate$22,441
Public (Unsubsidised)$7,721
Public (Subsidised)$2,889
ColorectalPrivate$39,796
Public (Unsubsidised)$17,392
Public (Subsidised)$5,656
ProstatePrivate$56,119
Public (Unsubsidised)$27,007
Public (Subsidised)$9,182
Note: Bills listed can be either for inpatient or day surgeries. Data shown have at least 30 cases/year. Figures are updated from time to time.

3) Cost of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy or “chemo” is the use of drugs (infusion into a vein, taking a pill, etc) to kill cancer cells.

It can also be used to control the spreading of cancer, shrink a tumour or ease pain.

There are different types of chemotherapy and a patient might need a combination to treat it.

Chemotherapy affects the whole body and that’s why cancer patients usually feel weak. It can also cause side effects such as hair loss or other severe complications.

The costs of chemo depend on the type of drugs needed and how often it’ll be administered.

For example, it can be a monthly cycle for a schedule of a few months.

Here are some costs of chemotherapy:

Type of HospitalAverage Bill Size
Private$3,338
Public (Unsubsidised)$1,978
Public (Subsidised)$1,246
Note: Bills listed can be either for inpatient or day surgeries. Data shown have at least 30 cases/year. Figures are updated from time to time.

4) Cost of Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy or radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells.

Usually, it involves beams of high energy directed to the affected area so it doesn’t affect the whole body, unlike chemo.

The radiation damages the DNA of the cancer cells causing them to die. The results might not be immediate and it could take weeks after the treatment is done.

Although it seems like a great way to treat cancer, there’s a lifetime limit to how much radiation that targeted area can take.

The cost of radiotherapy is expensive and can cost $25,000 to $30,000.

5) Cost of Other Treatments

Surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most common methods to treat cancer.

But collectively, they may not be enough for certain patients.

So there may be a time when other treatments are recommended.

Examples of other treatments:

  • Immunotherapy
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Blood product donation and transplant
  • Photodynamic Therapy
  • etc

… and many others.

Let’s take a closer look at immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy which uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer.

It makes use of the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

Like other cancer treatments, it comes at a high cost and can range from $7,000 to $15,000 every 3 weeks.

An extended period of treatment will cause major issues with the bank account.

The Average Cost of Cancer Treatments

As you can see, a lot of variables come into play when treating cancer.

It’s difficult to just put one number as an average.

However, Seedly has worked with the Singapore Cancer Society to get insights on the costs.

cancer treatment cost singapore

The cost of treatments for later-stage cancer in Singapore can easily range from $100,000 to $200,000 yearly (or $8,400 to $16,700 monthly).

How to Finance the Costs

After knowing the costs that are involved in diagnosing and treating cancer, what are your financing options?

As mentioned earlier, there are 2 types of costs: the cost of treatment and the cost of not being able to work.

1) MediShield Life

If you’re a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident, you may be asking, “does MediShield cover cancer treatments?”

And the answer is yes, up to the claim limits. MediShield Life only provides very basic protection.

The benefits are usually geared towards Government B2/C wards.

So if you intend to go to a Government A or private wards, you’ll need to pay much more.

Here are some benefits of MediShield Life:

MediShield life cancer benefits

Even after you hit the claim limits, you may still be able to use MediSave to pay for the bills. However, that too has limits to how much you can use.

So if you’re asking what’s the cost of cancer treatments without insurance in Singapore, the excess above these limits are what you need to fork out.

2) Integrated Shield Plan

An upgrade to the MediShield Life is the Integrated Shield Plan (IP) offered by insurance companies.

The medical insurance helps to provide added protection and the ability to cover private wards and below.

You can also add on a rider to cover substantially for deductibles and co-insurance, which reduces out-of-pocket expenses.

Best of all, you’re able to use your MediSave balance to finance a portion of the premiums; the rest will be in cash.

There are benefits that the IP covers that MediShield doesn’t such as pre and post hospitalisation costs.

NOTE
If you have pre-existing conditions, it may be hard to get coverage. That’s why if you’re healthy, that’s the best time to get covered.

3) Government & Other Financial Assistance

1. MediFund

When a patient is unable to pay for the medical bills even after MediShield Life and MediSave, he/she can seek financial help from MediFund.

MediFund is an endowment set up by the Government to assist patients who have difficulties with their remaining hospital bills.

2. Medication Assistance Fund

In the Medication Assistance Fund, eligible Singaporeans can receive further subsidies for expensive drugs that are not in the Standard Drug List but have been accessed to medically require it.

3. Other Organisations

There are charities out there such as the Singapore Cancer Society which help patients even further. You can consider making a donation to help the less fortunate.

4) Life Insurance

The previous 3 points deal with the cost of paying for cancer treatments.

But there’s also another cost which is the inability to perform work to earn an income.

Even if you’re covered for the hospitalisation costs, what about the other daily expenses, future goals/commitments?

Life still has to go on for you and your family.

Is your family able to cope with a higher financial responsibility if you can’t contribute to the household income?

And not all medical costs are covered by such health insurance. There are still other items including alternative treatments that are excluded.

That’s when life insurance with critical illness coverage comes in. It provides a lump sum payout if death, total and permanent disability or critical illness were to happen.

This payout can be then used to pay for the ongoing expenses and other commitments.

Most term insurance and whole life insurance allow you to attach a rider to cover critical illness. Some plans can cover all three types of stages of critical illness (early, intermediate, and late).

And if you just want to cover for critical illness, there are standalone early critical illness plans.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it.

Hopefully, you’ve gained some insights on the different types of cancer treatments and their costs.

Whether is it the treatment or not being able to work, the costs can run high.

If you worry about the costs of medical expenses, learn more about MediShield Life and the various Integrated Shield Plans.

If you worry about not having an income due to an illness like cancer, ensure that you have sufficient life insurance and critical illness coverage.

You can check out our life insurance calculator to estimate how much critical illness cover you need.

Abram Lim

With over 7 years of experience in the financial advisory industry, and previous stints in Citibank and UOB, Abram eagerly shares his knowledge by publishing research-backed articles. Learn more about Abram