Cancer: A Time Bomb

15 February 2020

Cancer: A Time Bomb

Cancer was not a common disease but today, various cancers are leading patients to their end. This situation is influenced by financial constraints among the low income groups (B40), allowing them to only seek treatment when they are already at Stage 3 or 4 of the disease.

Other reasons why cancer patients are late in seeking treatment include the lack of awareness and cultural stigma of the disease as well as the tendency to wait and see without undergoing preliminary examination.

The Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival (MySCan) conducted by the National Cancer Institute (IKN) in October 2018 revealed a five-year survival rate for patients with breast cancer and compared to Singapore and South Korea which has a 66.8% and 92% recovery rate respectively, the survival rate in Malaysia is at 66.8%.

Sunway Medical Centre Clinical Oncologist, Dr Nik Muhd Aslan Abdullah said the recovery rate is directly related to the stage when the cancer is detected. Patients have a higher chance to recovery if they sought immediate treatment compared to receiving treatment at a critical stage.

However, recent statistics from the Malaysia National Cancer Registry Report 2012-2016 (MNCRR) found an increase in cancer cases in Stages 3 and 4, indicating a reduction in Stages 1 and 2. This will cause the survival rate to decline compared to other countries, Dr Nik Muhd Aslan noted.

“If you dig deeper, Stage 3 and 4 cases of breast and colorectal cancer in developed countries are far less than what is seen in Malaysia, which contributes to a higher survival rate in developed countries,” he added.  

To effectively increase the recovery rate, there is a need to develop the awareness of the disease and reinforce the need for screening tests and early treatment.

"Based on my experience, Malaysians still believe in alternative medicine compared to modern medicine. Some may have been diagnosed early but delayed their treatment to try alternative treatments. And when alternative treatments are unsuccessful, they will seek treatment at the hospital and by then, they are already at Stages 3 and 4,” Dr Nik Muhd Aslan said.  

He added that for most Stage 4 patients, their chance is slim for a complete recovery or to be free of cancer.

"Cancer treatment in Stage 4 is more about managing symptoms so the patient does not suffer too much pain, allowing them to fight the disease and prolong their lifespan. However, there are certain cases where with appropriate treatment, the patient has the chance to recover," he said.

The MNCRR also showed an increase in new cancer cases – 115,238 cases between 2012 and 2016 compared to 103,507 cases between 2007 and 2011. This is measured by the incidence rate of 86 cases per 100,000 male population and 102 cases per 100,000 female population.

Dr Nik Muhd ​​Aslan said this is closely linked to the modern lifestyle. "The modern diet of today's society centres on the consumption of meat and high-fat foods, and less directed to vegetables and fruits. The busyness at work and easy access to transportation leads them to exercise less; couple that with unhealthy eating habits and you have a recipe for obesity,” he said.

He added that air and water pollution also play an important role.

The top 10 cancers in Malaysia are breast, colorectal, lung, lymphoma, nasopharynx, leukaemia, prostate gland, liver, cervical and ovary, according to the MNCRR.

Lung and prostate cancer are common in men and is closely related to their lifestyle.

“Lung cancer is caused by smoking and most smokers are men. However, it not only affects men as today’s lifestyle show many female smokers as well. This trend is alarming, given statistics that show an increase in lung cancer among women. The adverse effects of smoking do not occur quickly, and it can take years to damage the lungs and cause cancer,” Dr Nik Muhd Aslan said.

Meanwhile, prostate cancer is specific to men and is a cancer during old age.

“Most men are diagnosed with prostate cancer starting at the age of 55, and the number of cases increases with age. Men today are living longer, resulting in more cases of prostate cancer to be recorded. Unlike 20 years ago when the life span was shorter, most men do not live long enough to develop prostate cancer,” Dr Nik Muhd Aslan said.

Source: Berita Harian