Lung Cancer Network Malaysia (LCNM) was officially established in May 2019 and formally launched on 1st August 2019 on World Lung Cancer Day.
The brainchild of co-founders cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Anand Sachithanandan and clinical oncologist Dr Tho Lye Mun, it is a not-for-profit multi disciplinary disease-centric non governmental organisation (NGO) that aims to focus solely and exclusively on all aspects of lung cancer care in this country and address all stages of the disease in terms of prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment with both a curative and palliative intent.
LCNM hopes to vastly improve the current poor outcomes for lung cancer in Malaysia through greater awareness, education and advocacy.
LCNM recognises that optimal care of any patient with suspected or proven lung cancer often requires input from various specialists, hence at the core of the network is a team of highly skilled and experienced clinicians including specialists in primary care, public health, interventional radiology, nuclear medicine, respiratory (chest) medicine, thoracic surgery, oncology, pathology and palliative care.
Doctors aside, LCNM also has several dedicated allied health care professionals namely dietitians, pharmacists, physiotherapists and psychologists to provide relevant expertise thereby providing a comprehensive and holistic approach in tackling all things lung cancer.
The LCNM network is supported by motivated professionals from both the private and public healthcare sectors nationwide including East Malaysia and hopes to instill a paradigm culture shift of multidisciplinary evidence-based collaboration and teamwork in contrast to a traditional silo mentality.
The most contemporary local data (National Cancer Registry Report 2016 & MySCan Cancer Survival Report 2018) available suggests lung cancer is one of the commonest cancers and most fatal in Malaysian men and only surpassed by breast cancer as the leading cancer-killer in women, yet awareness remains abysmally low among both the general public and even among primary care general practitioners.
Hence unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of cases — a whopping 90 per cent — are diagnosed too late in stage 3 (locally advanced) or stage 4 (metastatic disease), with poor outcomes as such late stage disease is not amenable to curative treatment.
According to LCNM’s co-founders Dr Anand and Dr Tho, the NGO’s goals include preventative strategies such as promoting and supporting anti-tobacco legislation and the government’s laudable smoking cessation programmes to help create a smoke-free culture here in Malaysia.
After all, smoking remains a leading aetiological risk factor and the most identifiable and preventable one. Another area of focus will be to promote screening of high risk individuals with a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan in an ethical and logical manner.
The scientific data for such screening is compelling and suggests, if properly implemented, can be truly life saving and cost effective due to detection of lung cancer at an early stage when it can be treated more effectively.
In conjunction with World Lung Cancer Awareness Month, LCNM recently collaborated with seven leading private hospitals as part of the NGO’s inaugural Blue November to provide 150 such free LDCT screening scans as a CSR initiative. The screening targets male and female smokers or former smokers of at least 20 years duration aged 45-75 years.
Another aim of LCNM is to help destigmatise the disease and increase empathy for victims. It is important to change mindsets not only for society-at-large but within the medical profession as well, so that health care providers are less judgmental and more empathetic.
Countering erroneous beliefs and misconceptions is another educational goal of LCNM. Many think lung cancer is a communicable disease or that chemotherapy is harmful. Similarly, others think only men or smokers are at risk, or that traditional herbal therapies are effective.
Such ideas are dangerously complacent and frankly wrong. LCNM will work hard to dispel such falsehoods. Another equally important priority for LCNM is to provide a much needed voice and support for patient survivors and their caregivers.
In terms of academia and training, the two co-founders are excited to share LCNM’s aspirations with regards to mentoring future doctors and lung specialists through an innovative thoracic oncology internship for high achieving local medical students and an annual revision course for trainee government doctors, both due to roll out next year.
The NGO hopes to support and eventually fund relevant local research for lung cancer once it has a firm and sustainable financial footing.
LCNM recognises the importance of engaging with all the relevant stakeholders in the lung cancer ecosystem to meaningfully effect change, albeit other NGOs, policymakers and legislators, corporate or industry partners, public and private health care providers, the media and patient groups among others.
This is succinctly reflected by their apt tagline “Conquering Lung Cancer Together”. The philosophy of the two co-founders is that the role of LCNM and other stakeholders should be complementary not competing with the collective aim of improving outcomes from this dreadful but curable disease.
Some of the NGO’s notable activities since inception in May include roadshow awareness forums for both the lay public and general practitioners, an immuno-oncology specialist forum, a tree-planting awareness campaign and a “Pot it Tag it” social media awareness campaign.
LCNM has also developed and is distributing freely high quality educational tools for both the public and all relevant lung cancer specialists nationwide with the goal of helping both patients and their doctors alike to better navigate the treatment journey.
Upcoming future developments include animated instructional videos and free interactive online webinar consultations to educate and improve accessibility to specialist care.
LCNM as envisioned by the co-founders Dr Anand and Dr Tho, will champion the cause for greater lung cancer awareness and earlier detection of the disease here in Malaysia which should hopefully translate into better survival and quality of life through true stage migration at diagnosis.
About the free Low-Dose CT Scans
Seven hospitals: Beacon Hospital, Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Pantai Hospital Ayer Keroh, Manipal Hospitals Klang, Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Sunway Medical Centre, and Prince Court Medical Centre, is collaborating with LCNM to offer free, Low-Dose CT Scans as part of LCNM’s Blue November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month CSR initiative. Each hospital has allocated a limited number of scans to the campaign subject to availability. For more information on the participating hospitals, and how to apply for a free scan visit https://lungcancer.net.my.
About the ‘Pot it, Tag it’ social media campaign
Members of the public are invited to do their part for raising the awareness on lung cancer by joining the ‘Pot it, Tag it’ campaign, where they take photos or ‘selfies’ with potted plants and post them on their social media platforms with relevant hashtags (#LCNMalaysia).
Potted plants were selected as the symbol for the campaign as plants and forests are often referred to as the “green lungs” of the planet because like our human lungs, they clean the air we breathe. Participants in the ‘Pot it, Tag it’ campaign stand a chance to win an iPhone XI if they post their selfie before the 31st December. For more information on how to participate, visit https://lungcancer.net.my.
Dr Anand Sachithanandan, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is co-founder of LCNM.
Dr Tho Lye Mun, a clinical oncologist, is co-founder of LCNM.
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