There were 48,639 new cancer cases recorded in Malaysia 2020. According to the Globocan report 2020, and the cancer incidence in Malaysia is expected to double by 2040. The rising number of cancer cases will become a major health issue as the growing cancer burden continues to put tremendous physical, emotional, and financial strain on people with cancer, communities, and the country’s health care system.
Malaysia is an upper-middle-income country with a strong health-care system and good socioeconomic programs, however, cancer survival rates in Malaysia are still below the average rate of developed countries. This is due to a variety of barriers faced by people with cancer, including low cancer awareness and screening rates, delays in seeking medical care, delays in detection and diagnosis, and inadequate access to quality care. These barriers are especially prevalent for people who live in rural areas, as cancer centers are mainly found only in major cities. At least 3 states—Perlis, Pahang, and Terengganu—do not have any cancer centers, and traveling to a cancer center in a major city can take anywhere from several hours to half a day, if not longer. Some people with cancer do not have the means to reach these centers and may die without receiving any cancer treatment.
Screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, and prostate cancer is available in Malaysia, although the number of people who regularly get screened is far from satisfactory. A lack of knowledge around the various cancer screening methods, cultural attitudes, and a lack of encouragement by family members and family doctors are among the major reasons for the poor response to cancer screening.
Furthermore, cancer is a disease that many Malaysians fear, but the general public’s awareness and knowledge about the signs and symptoms of common cancers is still poor. In fact, some Malaysians still view a cancer diagnosis as “receiving the death penalty,” despite the disease being treatable.
There are many traditional health practitioners in Malaysia offering alternative therapies for cancer patients. The uncontrolled social media advertisements have allowed some unapproved practices to flourish, which has contributed to a delay in people seeking standard cancer treatment. Overall, avoiding diagnosis and treatment or seeking alternative therapies are common practices in Malaysia which further contributes to poor survival outcomes.
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