Amid dearth, Health Ministry says committed to increase number of cancer experts

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks during the World Cancer Day event in Kuala Lumpur February 4, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks during the World Cancer Day event in Kuala Lumpur February 4, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 — The Health Ministry is working towards increasing the number of oncologists ― or doctors dealing in prevention and treatment of cancer ― in Malaysia, primarily by encouraging more young medical officers to take up the specialisation.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad said efforts to do so are continuous, and would involve producing more graduates in the field.

“At present over 50 graduates enter oncology every year via Master’s [degree] programmes, with two more produced via the ministry’s parallel pathway programme in the same period,” he said following the launch of the World Cancer Day 2020 at KL Sentral here.

During his speech, Dzulkefly noted the dearth of available oncologists, with only 114 practitioners in Malaysia.

“Of this figure, 68 are in the private sector, 33 under the ministry, and 14 in universities.

“Oncology services is the other essential component in managing cancers. A large proportion of patients will require adjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” he said.

The minister added that other ways to increase the number of oncologists in Malaysia include roping in the private sector to assist by providing funding and scholarships for oncology students.

“The ministry roughly estimates the benchmark of oncologists needed will be one specialist per 100,000 in the population.

“If we can increase the figure up to at least 300 oncologists, that would be a satisfactory mark reflecting the country’s upper middle income economy status,” Dzulkefly.

Nonetheless, health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said there are challenges in the attempt to increase the number of oncologists.

“A lot of specialists have options to do so or not, but individually they must have the dedication and passion.

“Through cooperation with the National Cancer Society, we are promoting the field to young student doctors. They should also be emotionally firm, since it is not easy to break bad news to patients on tit cancer status,” he said.

The Malaysian National Cancer Registry recorded a total of 115,238 new cases from 2012 to 2016, with a significant increase in the number of newly diagnosed cancer cases in the country for the past five years.

The most common cases of cancers are breast cancer at 34.1 per cent, colorectal cancer at 11.1 per cent, trachea, bronchus and lung cancer at 9.8 per cent, lymphoma at 5.1 per cent, and nasopharynx cancer at four per cent.

World Cancer Day aims to empower the public by calling them to action for personal commitment and individual action in reducing the aliment’s impact upon society.

With its slogan of “I Am and I Will”, the campaign seeks to address the issues of awareness, understanding and misinformation, prevention and risk reduction, the mental and emotional impact, the financial and economic burden of cancer, reducing the skill gap of skilled healthcare workers, and working together as one.

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