Taking steps to the right treatment

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020

Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre consultant clinical (medical and radiation) oncologist Dr Malwinder Singh Sandhu checking the set-up before the radiation treatment at Radiotherapy Suite, Cancer Centre in Klang, in the presence of radiation therapist J. Jayabarathy.

CANCER has dominated increasing attention among Malaysians in recent years.

As cancer treatment often involves multiple options and specialties, people diagnosed with cancer need to get the right information to make informed decisions about cancer care. Coupled with the life-threatening nature of cancer and its emotional repercussions, it is often difficult and challenging for cancer-stricken people to take appropriate and timely steps with treatment.

With this in mind, Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre, Klang’s pioneer and flagship tertiary healthcare provider, upgraded its Cancer Centre to provide versatile, efficient and effective treatment for its patients, regardless of the complexity of their tumour, accompanied by maximised precision to help minimise side effects.

Upgraded centre

The 450sq m centre began operations in October 1999 with only a handful of staff.

By 2019, the centre, located on the first floor of the medical centre, was upgraded to span 850sq m, equipped with a state-of-the-art TomoTherapy machine (one of seven such machines available in Malaysia) with a comprehensive spectrum of radiation therapies such as Image-Guided Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, and Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy.

With private consulting rooms and isolation areas for vulnerable patients, the centre houses a team of highly-skilled medical professionals, including two clinical oncologists, Dr Francis Lopez and Dr Malwinder Singh Sandhu, tirelessly serving the needs of Klang residents and more.

Better healing

According to hospital director Tan Suet Guan, the goal of improving the Cancer Centre was “to bring better healing and cure to every patient diagnosed with cancer especially to the Klang community in accordance to our tagline, Together We Are Stronger Than Cancer.”

The centre is Klang’s first and only cancer centre equipped with high-technology machines delivering optimum care while reducing the hassle for patient commutes.

Hospital director Tan Suet Guan said that the goal of improving the Cancer Centre is to bring better healing and cure to every patient diagnosed with cancer especially to the Klang community.Hospital director Tan Suet Guan said that the goal of improving the Cancer Centre is to bring better healing and cure to every patient diagnosed with cancer especially to the Klang community.

“Our Cancer Centre is equipped with Accuray Tomo Therapy system supported by a 160 slice high-end CT system and the first and only 3D digital mammography system in Klang.

TomoTherapy integrates computerised tomography (CT) imaging with radiation therapy to deliver radiation treatment with speed and precision while reducing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy organs,” she added, demonstrating the commitment in delivering more effective treatments in a safe, comfortable environment.

The facility features several forms of therapies, including chemotherapy, a systematic therapy that weakens and destroys cancer cells in the body, and hormonal therapy, which lowers the amount of hormones in the body. For example, by blocking the action of estrogen or progesterone on breast cancer cells.

The centre also provides targeted therapy which targets specific characteristics of cancer cells; immunotherapy which helps the immune system to work harder and efficiently to fight cancer cells, as well as surgery services catering to individualised cancer treatments. Tan added that chemotherapy at Day Care could accommodate at least 12 patients a day, while radiation therapy with TomoTherapy could treat at least 16 patients per day.

Treating adult cancer patients

Consultant Clinical (Medical and Radiation) oncologist Dr Malwinder Singh Sandhu shared that cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body and that there are more than 100 types of cancers. Dr Malwinder, who has 13 years of medical practice, explained that from treating adult cancer patients at the centre, a majority of their patients are aged 50 years and above, seeking treatment for five main types of cancers – breast, colorectal, lung, cervix and nasopharynx (nose).

“Most of our patients are females suffering from breast and colorectal cancer,” he added. Physical examination, laboratory tests, imaging tests and biopsy procedure are used for diagnosis, while treatment would be determined by the stage of the cancer.

Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre consultant clinical (medical and radiation) oncologist Dr Malwinder Singh Sandhu explain the various aspects of cancer treatmentsSri Kota Specialist Medical Centre consultant clinical (medical and radiation) oncologist Dr Malwinder Singh Sandhu explain the various aspects of cancer treatments

Cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of treatments which included hormonal therapy (such as for breast and prostate cancer), targeted therapies (for lung, colorectal and breast cancer, among others) and immunotherapy (such as for lung, breast and skin cancer).

Treatment would also depend on the individual, as each patient adapts to treatment differently.

“Patients going for the targeted therapy, immunotherapy or radiotherapy have better quality of life compared to those who undergo chemotherapy,” he said, adding that most treatments are done as outpatients and in day care.

“Only five per cent of patients need to be admitted depending on the type of chemotherapy given,” he added. A minimum of four to six cycles of chemotherapy would be prescribed to a patient, each cycle of chemotherapy costing between RM1,000 to RM9,000.

Radiotherapy treatment can cost between RM5,000 and RM35,000 depending on the technique and fractionation (number of times the treatment was given to the patient). Targeted therapy costs between RM3,000 to RM10,000 while immunotherapy is priced between RM15,000 and RM20,000.

“If the cancer is detected early, the aim of treatment is to reduce recurrence risk, and we are aiming for cure. For instance, for the Stage 1 breast cancer with biologically good prognosis, the five-year survival rate is about 90%,” he said.

Doctors perform tumour markers on the patients from time to time to monitor the response to the treatment given. “If the cancer is detected at an advanced stage, the aim of treatment is palliative, which is just controlling the cancer and prolonging life,” he said.

Treatments could be weekly or tri-weekly for chemotherapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy, while for those who undergo radiotherapy treatment, it could be daily.

“Follow-up treatments can also be once a month or tri-monthly, depending on the symptoms shown by the patients,” he added, with the chance of recurrence for cancer patients lower if detected early. “If it is in the advanced stage, the chances of recurrence is higher.”

He highlighted

that heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity or being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle or physical inactivity, age, genetics were risk factors to cancer.

“About 5% to 10% of the causes of breast, ovarian, pancreas and prostate cancer are due to genetics,” he explained. He added that the main symptoms of possible recurrence that patients have to watch after completing the treatments included gradual weight loss and reduced appetite.

He advised, “If patients want to have good cancer response and prolong their survival, they have to go through treatments recommended by their doctor, try to avoid unlicensed bogus medical practitioners, have good family support, good nutrition and a balanced diet.”

Support and care

Dr Malwinder said that the centre also has a support team in collaboration with the National Cancer Society Malaysia, to advise cancer patients at the centre who have difficulty coming to terms with their condition.

“There is a patient support group in Klang Valley that regularly meets with patients, shares experiences, and gives moral and emotional support for life before, during and after treatment,” he added.

The advancement of this centre could help boost Malaysia’s standing among the best providers of healthcare in South-East Asia, with visiting health travellers potentially saving between 65% to 80% on healthcare fees compared to the cost in other regions.

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