Buying anti-cancer pills? Speak to your doctor first

Reuters pic.

KUALA LUMPUR: A former adviser to the World Health Organisation has cautioned the public against being too ready to accept the claimed benefits of health supplements.

Dr Narimah Awin, who is also a former director of the health ministry’s family health development division, said many Malaysians lacked health literacy and were sometimes gullible enough to accept every claim made by drug companies, such as those selling health supplements.

“They will buy anything on the market because of the benefits the products claim to have,” she said.

She was speaking to FMT after delivering the keynote address at a forum held in advance of the World Cancer Congress, which begins in Kuala Lumpur today. The forum programme describes her as a cancer survivor.

Narimah noted that the market was full of supplements claiming to cure or prevent diseases, including serious diseases like cancer.

“I can understand that people like cancer patients are willing to try anything, but my advice is to get all the knowledge and evidence you need from a doctor,” she said.

She said she was especially concerned for people whose financial means were limited. “I wouldn’t want them wasting their money. My advice is, please listen to people who know.”

In her keynote speech, she lamented that urban Malaysians, especially the educated among them, were less motivated than rural folk when it came to seeking preventive care.

She said people in rural communities tended to be more trusting of doctors.

She spoke of her experience of carrying out pap smear tests in longhouses in Sarawak.

“We had ladies turning up for check-ups at night,” she said. “I asked them why they had come for the test. They said they didn’t really know what a pap smear was but they would take the test because the doctors said it was good for them.

“And here we have highly educated women living in places like Damansara Heights or working as CEOs and they don’t come for a pap smear test.”

She said the more educated perhaps assumed they could recognise the symptoms of diseases and were therefore less motivated to go for screening.