Make modern treatment first choice, not last, think tank tells cancer patients

(Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has cautioned cancer patients against diving straight into traditional medication, saying advanced modern treatment should be their first choice.

The problem, according to Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib, is that many are making modern medicine their “third or even fourth choice”.

“By the time they get to medical treatment, they could have moved from stage two to three, or even three to four,” he told FMT.

He was commenting on Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye’s call for cancer patients not to delay treatment. Lee also urged patients not to be waylaid by claims of alternative treatment or cures based on pseudoscience and “quackery”.

Azrul voiced particular concern over claims of treatment which have not been proven through research and clinical trials.

“The best case is that they make patients feel good, but the worst case is that they worsen their condition and result in premature death,” he said.

However, he noted the role of complimentary treatment, especially in palliative care and pain management.

He also cited a study showing that more than 40% of patients in the public health sector delay seeking diagnosis or treatment for cancer by over a month.

He said early diagnosis was key to effective treatment and survival of cancer, adding that developments in treatment over the last two decades had produced innovative drugs and targeted therapy.

This in turn had increased survival rates for many, including those with metastatic or late-stage cancer.

“Many of these are still not included in our public healthcare system but are available at great cost at private hospitals,” he said, calling for innovative healthcare financing solutions for those in need, particularly the bottom 40 group.

“What are their options for treatment? Overall survival rates of cancer patients in Malaysia are not as good as they should be for an upper-middle income country.

“We can do better,” he said.

Lee, who is Gopeng MP, said traditional treatment had a role in palliative measures or in terminal cases.

“However, all cancer patients should give modern medicine a chance,” he said, noting new advances in treatment which could lead to potential cures.

In developed countries, he said, the five-year relative survival rate for women with early-stage breast cancer is close to 100%. Women with stage two breast cancer, meanwhile, have a five-year relative survival rate of about 93%.

“In Malaysia, the overall five-year survival rate was 49%, based on a study in 2004,” he said.

“We have the highest mortality rate of breast cancer among the Southeast Asian countries, at 18 per 100,000 people compared to Singapore and Thailand at 15 and 11 per 100,000 respectively.”

He said 30% to 40% of breast cancer patients present only at stage three or four, which might account for the relatively poor survival rates.

“Delay in seeking treatment or getting proper diagnosis is all too common in Malaysia,” he added.