Cancer treatment in Singapore
US-trained physician Dr Steven Tucker talks about the future of cancer treatment and about practicing medicine in Singapore.
An oncologist who primarily treats breast, prostate, and colon cancer, Dr Tucker spoke with us recently about the future of cancer treatment and about his practice at the Pacific Cancer Centre in Singapore. Trained in the United States, Dr Tucker is one of the only licensed American doctors in Singapore. Read his thoughts about current trends in oncology, and what he thinks will revolutionize cancer treatment in the future.
Tell us about your practice. What do you do, who are your patients, where do they come from and what are they coming for?
I am a medical doctor who specializes in cancer care. I primarily see men with prostate cancer and women with breast cancer. These two diseases, along with colon cancer, make up most of my practice. My patients come from all over the world; mostly from Asia and Australia, but I also see patients from Europe, the US and the Middle East and Africa. Also, as I am one of the only licensed American doctors practicing in Singapore, I also tend to see a lot of expatriates from the region for a wide range of medical issues.
Why do patients come to see Dr Steven Tucker? In marketing parlance, what are your unique selling points?
Probably best to ask my patients! But really, I think there are two key reasons. As an American oncologist licensed to practice in Asia, I do see a lot of expatriates who want the familiarity of a western doctor trained in the US. The other is communication. I understand that cancer is more than a disease and treating cancer is more than just the drugs or technology you use. Cancer is a life changing disease, and my patients need more than just a good clinician; they want someone who will help them through the journey. I believe that communication is the cornerstone of good care.
You left a very successful oncology practice in Los Angeles to work in Singapore. How did that transition come about?
I was recruited by a large cancer center in the USA to help them build their cancer program in Asia. I moved to Singapore in 2006, and for the first two years was traveling extensively throughout Asia building cancer management programs in Singapore, China and Vietnam. I then had the opportunity to join the Pacific Cancer Centre as their Medical Director in 2008 and have been happily stationed in Singapore ever since.
The US remains the leader in cancer care across the world, but coming into the Pacific Cancer Centre is like going to a “Medical Embassy”, we may be on Asian soil but the approach is very American.
Do you find that practicing medicine in Los Angeles is very different from practicing medicine in Singapore? How specifically?
Practicing in the US, and Los Angeles in particular, is very different than practicing in Asia. The most striking difference is patient-doctor communication. In the US, there is a more shared approach in the decision making process, where the doctor engages the patient, ie “these are my opinions, these are your options, tell me what you think”. In Asia, patients expect the doctors to make strong recommendations based on their expert opinion, so the dialogue tends to be more one-way than two-way. Clearly, that is not always the case, but this is the main difference as I see it.
Clinically, are you still focused on the same areas of medicine as before, or has that changed too?
I was originally trained at UCLA as breast cancer specialist, but as my practice developed I started seeing a lot of men with prostate cancer and over time that has became my field of expertise. There are many areas in breast and prostate cancer that overlap. They are both hormonally driven cancers and they are both highly preventable cancers driven in part by “lifestyle diseases”. So my clinical focus is really on the prevention and management of breast and prostate cancer, but in practice I also see expats with a wide range of medical issue and VIP’s from neighboring countries that need coordination for complicated medical issues.
What are the strengths of Singapore and the Pacific Cancer Center compared to other local or regional competitors?
The strength of Singapore is Singapore. We have a stellar reputation as the best in class care across Asia. The transparency of rules and regulations in Singapore benefits medical care and patients. Patients can count on getting the most current medicines from the best trained doctors. Quality measures abound in Singapore and are mandated from the top down. There is excellent care all across Asia, but Singapore, I believe, is in a class of its own.
Pacific Cancer Centre’s strength is that it is run like an American cancer centre. I tell our patients that we provide treatment and get results identical or better than care in America. The US remains the leader in cancer care across the world, but coming into the Pacific Cancer Centre is like going to a “Medical Embassy”, we may be on Asian soil but the approach is very American.
Give us a peek into the future of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Are there any blockbuster drugs or breakthrough technologies on the horizon?
The future in cancer care, and dare I say health care, will not be in drug breakthroughs. The future is in personalized medicine. Today, many drugs “fail” because they take a shotgun rather than a rifle approach. Each person has a unique genetic make-up, including how our bodies handle various medicines (or foods). So a drug that works for one person may not work for another. Personalized medicine will create more targeted and effective therapies customized to the individual, not the group.
How is the internet changing or shaping your practice? Do you spend more time online talking to patients?
I have been online with patients for over a decade. The internet, email, sms, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and the old fashioned telephone are just tools for communication. Doctors need to be great communicators. They also must be great listeners. Having more tools for communication has, in my opinion, been great for patients and great for healthcare.
Do you think that in the next 3-5 years that patients will go beyond using the internet for research and information and start using it for online consultations?
Online consults are already happening. I don’t think that practicing medicine over the Internet is the “ideal” way to practice but it is certainly important to be in touch. Telemedicine and variations are great for managing chronic conditions, but it will never replace hands-on consultations. Overall, I think the delivery of healthcare services will change, but the practice of medicine will generally stay the same.
Suggest a topic
Do you have a topic you would like to read more about in this section? Send us your ideas using the feedback form below.