KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) urged low- and middle-income Malaysians to seek evidence-based treatments for cancer instead of alternative medicine.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad noted that some Malaysians have strong dispositions and beliefs towards alternative treatments that often don’t work, but end up requiring medical treatment all the same.
“In many instances, these patients sought traditional (methods) as their first choice of treatment upon diagnosis by doctors, including (by going to) faith healers.
“Only when such modalities fail, do they seek medical attention,” he said at the launch of World Cancer Day 2020 here, adding that MOH views this as “extremely regrettable”.
Dzulkefly said this is because the recent Malaysian National Cancer Registry Report (MNCRR) 2012-2016 found that almost 60 per cent of cases were detected in late stages, which sees higher costs of treatment and reduced chances of cure from the chronic disease.
He also cited the Asean Costs in Oncology 2015 study by the George Institute for Global Health that found that 45 per cent of cancer patients in Malaysia are facing “financial catastrophe”, as the cost of treatment exceeds 30 per cent of their family income.
Speaking to reporters after the launch at KL Sentral here, Dzulkefly said cancer must be emphasised as a preventable and treatable disease. Cancer patients at all stages must also be told that medically-backed methods are effective.
“Public education, awareness campaigns, promotion of healthy lifestyles, the importance of screening and knowing the signs and symptoms, including prompt and correct choice of proven therapy, must be continued and emphasised,” he said.
In particular, he recommended that people go for cancer screenings that are offered by the Peka B40 programme for the bottom 40 per cent (B40) income group, instead of going for what is claimed to be effective by “outsiders”.
The majority of those who believe in such alternative means of treatment, he said, are from the lower and middle-income groups.
Dzulkefly said MOH will spearhead campaigns to incentivise healthy living, and spoke of a programme that sees reduced travel fares if a person does 10 push ups. He urged young people to come up with more ideas like this.
He noted that 30 to 50 per cent of cancer incidence can be prevented through healthy lifestyles, with one-third of cancer deaths due to lack of physical activity, low fruit and vegetable intake, tobacco use, alcohol intake, and high body mass index (BMI).
“Tobacco use is perhaps the most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22 per cent of cancer deaths,” he said, and lauded the ongoing smoking ban at public eateries as an effort that aims to reduce this figure.
He also said that MOH will continue their HPV and Hepatitis B immunisation programmes in an effort to prevent incidence of cervical and liver cancers, respectively. As of 2018, a 99.16 per cent rate of coverage for completed doses of Hepatitis B immunisation was achieved, as well as a 82.23 per cent coverage rate for completed doses for HPV.
MOH also provides free screenings for cervical cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and oral cancer. Screenings of certain cancers for high-risk groups, such as liver, prostate, and nasopharyngeal cancer, meanwhile, are available at hospitals.
Earlier, Dzulkefly launched the MNCRR 2012-2016, which was published on January 3. The report is the second of two reports that identified cancer risks and statistics for a 10-year period from 2007 to 2016, which Dzulkefly said was necessary for data-driven policies.
The report estimated that the lifetime risk in developing cancer for Malaysian males and females are one in 10, and one in nine, respectively. It also reported an 11.3 per cent increase in the number of new cancer incidences nationwide.
Today’s programme marking World Cancer Day was organised by the Malaysian Oncological Society in collaboration with MOH, the National Cancer Society Malaysia, WOMEN:girls, Hepatitis Free Malaysia, and a number of civil societies that work on cancer.