Silver lining for cancer care despite being out of the ‘limelight’ during this pandemic

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 as well as patients, including those with cancer and this bridges the access gap for people who are less mobile or reside in rural areas.

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% of Malaysians were diagnosed at Stages 3 or 4 of the disease, higher than the 58.7% 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 Malaysian,” the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia (AMM) pointed out. “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.”

AMM stressed that those are the key priority areas for the government’s cancer control programme in Malaysia. This is given primary prevention not only saves lives but is also more cost-effective in the long run.”

AMM further added that the pandemic has increased public understanding of community-based care and intervention. Thus, the Government and health advocates must seize this opportunity to ensure that this does not end with the pandemic.

Moreover, 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 in the likes of smoking and excessive junk food and alcohol consumption to decrease their chances of developing cancer.

According to AMM, beating cancer is a joint effort from all levels of society, just like all public health endeavours. Therefore, the Government must lead in enacting policies which reduce exposure to cancer risk factors.

In addition, 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, AMM pointed out.

“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,” opined AMM.

“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.”

For World Cancer Day 2021, AMM hopes that 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 one can do as an individual or community leader, visit – Feb 4, 2021


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