Almost 60% cancers in Malaysia are detected late due to low rate of early health screening, which then led to higher cost of treatment.

“Globally, cancer is the second most important cause of death and [it was] responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015,” said Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah at the 2nd Malaysian Cancer Care Initiative (MCCI) Summit on 29 March 2018.

The latest Malaysian National Cancer Registry Report 2007 to 2011 found that there was a total of 64,275 medically certified and non-medically certified cancer deaths.

In the year 2000, cancer contributed to 9.3% of all deaths occurred at the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals. By 2016, this had increased to 26.7%, while 13.6% of all deaths in government hospitals were attributed to cancer.

Low rate of health screening

According to Datuk Dr Noor Hisham, most cancers are detected in late stages as patients did not go for early health screening.

“Early detection can prompt treatment, and improve the chances of cure of cancer. Unfortunately, delay in presentation are commonly found among cancer patients,” he said.

“Many are either ignorant or intentionally ignoring the possible signs and symptoms of early malignancies,” he explained.

He also added that modern medical and health facilities may not be the first preferred place for some patients to seek treatment, as they opt for alternative treatment instead.

Higher cost of cancer treatment

Datuk Dr Noor Hisham also commented that cancers detected in late stages lead to higher cost of treatment. In addition to this, the MOH spent around RM400 million to treat cancer patients annually – which is much higher compared to treating patients with non-communicable diseases (NCD) – and will continue to rise.

“The ASEAN Costs in Oncology ACTION study conducted by George Institute for Global Health found that 45% of cancer patients in Malaysia are actually facing financial catastrophe,” he explained, “as the cost of treatment exceeds 30% of the family income after being diagnosed of cancer.”

“Today, the development of oncological drugs in cancer treatment is tremendous with the introduction of new agents, including targeted therapies,” he added, but they also result in higher cost of cancer cure.

This financial issue is the biggest challenge faced by the government, and it is currently looking into how the cost of cancer treatment can be lowered.

Shortage of oncologists

Datuk Dr Noor Hisham also cited the shortage of oncologists, especially in the public sector, as another cause for concern.

Currently, there are 101 oncologists in the country, and only 30% are still with the Ministry of Health. In view of the shortage of manpower, he explained that the MOH will continue to expand and train more oncologists in this country.

“We have actually embarked on an alternative pathway, to look into centres and how can we train our doctors,” he added.

A shared responsibility

In order to control the increase in cancer burden, focus is given in improving the screening of early detection and to increase access to patient care. Datuk Dr Noor Hisham noted that the MOH is also working with other ministries in promoting a healthy environment.

Coping with the cancer burden is a responsibility shared by all relevant stakeholders and the public.

“The key word to cancer control is working together across all sectors, by harnessing each other's strength and forces especially in the area of training and allocation,” he said. MIMS

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