Cancer patients still diagnosed late despite screening, study says

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Despite the availability of several cancer screening programmes, the Healthy Ministry admitted that there are still many patients who presented the disease when they have reached a later stage.

According to its latest report called the Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival (MySCan), diagnosis at a late stage was a significant determinant for poor cancer survival.

“In Malaysia, there are established and accessible cancer screening programmes for breast, cervix uteri and colorectal cancers.

“However, the percentage of cases who presented at a late stage (stage III & IV) were 41.3 per cent, 38.5 per cent and 63.8 per cent respectively,” the report said.

The report focused on the 15 most common cancers in Malaysia — which are lung, trachea and bronchus, female breast, colorectal, nasopharynx, prostate, brain and nervous systems, stomach, liver, cervix uteri, ovary, corpus uteri, thyroid, pancreas, leukaemia and lymphoma — for the period between 2007 and 2011.

Generally, it found that out of all the 69,011 cancer cases where staging is applicable, only 58 per cent of patients (39,976) sought screening.

Out of the 39,976 patients, 56 per cent of them had only sought screening when they had already reached Stage III and IV of the disease.

The report said only 18 per cent of them were diagnosed at Stage I, while the other 26 per cent at Stage II.

When cancer patients have already reached Stage III and IV of their battles, the survival rates significantly decreased.

For instance, a patient diagnosed at Stage I of cervix uteri cancer would still have a five-year relative survival rate of 75.3 per cent, but the rate will go down to 52.3 per cent, 32.1 per cent and 23.0 per cent at Stage II, III, and IV respectively.

MySCan said this shows that there is an urgent need to strengthen the promotion and awareness of cancer prevention and screening programme in the community.

“This can be done through collaboration with various stakeholders and integrated into the social, economic and environmental system to establish a robust platform for effective cancer screening programme in Malaysia.

“Effective programmes can then be implemented at various level that include community engagement to address patient behaviour, improving diagnostic and referral capacity, and ensuring access to timely, affordable and high-quality treatment,” it added.

Health Ministry Dzulkefly Ahmad said the ministry is committed to cancer control efforts and prevention strategies to reduce the number of incidents and mortality, thus improving cancer survival.

“The ministry has also introduced Hepatitis B vaccination in the prevention of liver cancer in 1989 followed by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in 2013 to prevent cervical cancer.

“In addition to the screening programme, effective health promotion and education campaigns, which demystify cancer and results in early detection and diagnosis will contribute to a better survival,” he said in the report’s introduction.


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