The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia (AMM) wishes to take the opportunity this World Cancer Day to highlight another important battle happening in hospitals across Malaysia amidst our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic: The battle against cancer.
According to the Global Cancer Observatory, over 128,000 Malaysians have been diagnosed with cancer since 2015. In 2020 alone, the country lost 29,530 people to the disease. The Malaysia National Cancer Registry Report (MNCRR) 2011-2016 indicated that 63.7 per cent of Malaysians were diagnosed at Stages Three or Four of the disease, higher than the 58.7 per cent detected at the same stages in 2007-2011. The commonest cancers in Malaysia are breast, colorectal and lung cancers.
This data is alarming to us and should be alarming to all Malaysians. While we have come a long way in cancer care nationally, there is still much we can do to improve prevention and early detection measures as well as enhance public awareness and understanding of the disease. These are the key priority areas for the government’s cancer control programme in Malaysia. Primary prevention not only saves lives but is also more cost-effective in the long run.
Cancer care did not receive the same level of attention this past year, as was the case in many countries throughout the world during the pandemic. However, Covid-19 has had some positive impacts to our healthcare delivery system too. Covid-19 has allowed for the accelerated adoption of telehealth for various healthcare departments and patients, including those with cancer. This bridges the access gap for people who are less mobile or reside in rural areas.
Moreover, the pandemic has increased public understanding of community-based care and intervention. The government and health advocates must seize this opportunity to ensure that this does not end with the pandemic. One third of cancers are preventable, which means that empowered communities can support one another in encouraging healthy lifestyle practices, such as ensuring regular physical activity, and discouraging poor habits, such as smoking and excessive junk food and alcohol consumption, to decrease their chances of developing cancer.
Like all public health endeavours, beating cancer is a joint effort by all levels of society. The government must lead in enacting policies which reduce exposure to cancer risk factors. Education institutions have a significant role to play in teaching younger generations about food nutrition, physical activity and preventive healthcare.
Improving health literacy is vital in curbing the spread of misinformation and medical myths. Businesses, on the other hand, can adopt wellness programmes which incentivise their employees to maintain healthy lifestyles as well as conduct in-office screenings to drive early detection. The health of the rakyat is our collective responsibility – we must all be advocates and accountable for one another.
Finally, as specialists, we acknowledge that while our individual expertise is focused and specific, a lot more can be gained by working together across sectors, specialisations, and diseases. The culture in our health system must pivot to encourage more collaboration between specialist areas and departments. This will strengthen our ability to provide best practice multidisciplinary care to cancer patients.
We hope that for World Cancer Day 2021, every single person reading this will call up at least one family member, friend or loved one, to help raise awareness on this disease. For more information on what you can do as an individual or community leader, visit www.worldcancerday.org.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.