Extra anaesthetic jab before surgery helps cancer patients

The Straits Times (4 May 2015) - AN EXTRA jab of anaesthetic before surgery may sound offputting, but doctors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) are finding that it saves patients a world of trouble afterwards.

Since December, TTSH has been offering breast cancer patients an injection of local anaesthetic before general anaesthesia. This reduces the overall amount of painkillers and other drugs needed, allowing patients to wake up more clear-headed and with fewer side effects.

Before, patients would inhale a different general anaesthesia drug which is more potent than the one used in combination with the jab. “We are getting a lot of older patients and, for some of them, the risk of general anaesthesia was bigger than the risk of cancer,” said Dr Juliana Chen, director of the hospital’s breast clinic.

Some patients even prefer to have the operation under this form of local anaesthesia only. “For some of the older patients, they have the fear that if they go to sleep, they won’t wake up.” Patients who are unsuitable for general anaesthesia can also benefit from this technique.

The hospital has used the injections on more than 200 breast cancer patients so far, none of whom have had any complications.

Dr John Tey, a consultant in the anaesthesiology department, said overseas studies have shown that this method might even lower the chances of a cancer relapse. This is because some anaesthetics work by suppressing the immune system, which helps the body to fight cancer.

One patient who has undergone surgery with this technique is a 60-year-old who wanted to be known only as Madam Chua.

She recalled having a bad experience waking up after knee surgery last year. In contrast, her breast surgery experience was “very good”.

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.