Closing The Cancer Care Gap – Dr Soh Yih Harng & Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming

The five-year survival rate for cancer in Malaysia is 65%, compared with the US’ 90.2% and Singapore’s 81%.

Cancer is the leading cause of death around the world. In 2020, it was responsible for 10 million deaths, or about 1 in 6 deaths.

In the same year, there were 29,530 cancer deaths, which contributed to 15.4 per cent of medically certified deaths in Malaysia. If all deaths had been medically confirmed, the proportion of cancer-related mortality would be higher.

By 2040, the number of cancer cases in Malaysia is expected to double. The growing number of cancer cases will become a major health problem as it has a significant impact on the community and the country’s health care system.

In view of the disease burden of cancer, the World Cancer Day is established to raise public awareness of cancer and to increase efforts to improve access to quality care, screening, early detection, treatment, and palliative care.

The theme for 2023 is “Closing the Care Gap”, which is about identifying disparities in cancer care and taking action to make the required effort to overcome them. Urgent action is needed to increase cancer screening, detection, and diagnosis in the early stages to improve cancer patients’ chances of survival.

Certain cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery) or cancer itself can suppress or weaken the immune system. During the Covid-19 pandemic, cancer patients are at higher risk for Covid-19 infection with severe symptoms.

The pandemic also lowered screening rates due to disrupted screening services, which caused patients presented late for treatment.

Delayed diagnosis is associated with a poor prognosis. The five-year survival rate for cancer in Malaysia is 65 per cent, compared with the United States’ 90.2 per cent and Singapore’s 81 per cent.

Even though Malaysia is an upper-middle-income country with a good health care system, our cancer survival rates are still below the average of developed nations. This may be due to challenges such as poor cancer awareness and low screening rates, delays in cancer detection and diagnosis, and delays in obtaining medical care.

Breast cancer and cervical cancer are two of the main causes of death for cancer patients in Malaysia. However, the number of individuals who receive screenings is far short of expectations.

Breast cancer screening ranged between 3.6 per cent and 30.9 per cent in the general population, and 80.3 per cent among medical personnel. A lack of understanding on the importance of regular cancer screening and a lack of support from family members are among the causes of the low response for cancer screening.

In conjunction with World Cancer Day (on February 4, 2023), let’s unite to close the gap in cancer care through regular cancer screening.

Dr Soh Yih Harng, a DrPH candidate, and Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming are from the Centre for Epidemiology & Evidence-Based Practice, Department of Social Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

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