KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — About 45 per cent of Malaysian cancer patients suffer from “financial catastrophe” — where medical costs exceed 30 per cent of household income — 12 months after they were diagnosed, a recent survey showed.

According to the Asean Costs in Oncology (Action) study by Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health, 44 per cent of respondents would survive the cancer with no financial catastrophe, while another 11 per cent died.

Around 51 per cent will be pushed into “economic hardship” after a year from diagnosis, it said, with 49 per cent of them already used up all their personal savings, while 39 per cent of all respondents could not pay for their medication.

Of the respondents, 35 per cent could not pay for medical consultation fees, 22 per cent could no longer pay for their rents and mortgages, while 19 per cent of them just discontinued treatments altogether.


“The cost of cancer does not only affect patients, but also their families and society as a whole,” the institute’s Prof Mark Woodward said in a statement accompanying the study report.

“We hope the evidence from the Action Study will help governments of countries in Southeast Asia develop strategies and policies for combating cancer for the long term,” he added.

The survey found that the median age where Malaysians are diagnosed with cancer is at 52 years, and subsequently died at 59.


“Cancer diagnosis at stage III or IV (late stage) makes treatment more costly, less likely to succeed, and reduces chances of survival,” it suggested.

It also found that patients become financially vulnerable from two reasons: high out-of-pocket spending on loans, debts and depletion of assets; and high treatment and medical spending.

The Action report said even patients in public hospitals face high out-of-pocket spending for many health services such as chemotherapy, biopsy, biomarker testing, innovative cancer treatments, and palliative care.

In addition, university hospitals — such as those attached to University of Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and Universiti Sains Malaysia — require more funds from Ministry of Education to provide optimal support for cancer patients.

For example, UM’s cancer epidemiologist Prof Dr Nirmala Bhoo-Pathy said the average cost for breast cancer treatment could reach up to US$15,000 (RM65,000) per year, and those earning less than US$1,100 (RM4,700) per month would have “a very difficult time” to pay for it.

The survey was done in eight Southeast Asian countries, and in Malaysia had followed 1,662 cancer patients in public and private hospitals through their first year following diagnosis, with 44 per cent of them at 50 years old or younger.

According to Malaysia’s Ministry of Health’s last survey on cancer in 2006, the most common type of cancer locally is breast cancer, followed by colorectal, lung, cervical, nasopharyngeal, liver, and prostate.