THE proposal to set up a cancer centre in every state is long overdue.
Cancer is no respecter of territorial boundaries, and as we face up to the reality that cancer cases are on the rise, we must do all we can to ensure that patients, from whichever part of the country, can undergo treatment with minimal discomfort.
With much of cancer treatment and support facilities concentrated in major urban centres, especially in the Klang Valley, it is not uncommon that many patients have to travel long distances just to see an oncologist, be it in a public or private hospital.
They also have to make regular trips to such places to avail themselves of the latest radiotherapy, chemotherapy and advanced scan facilities, which only adds to the burden of what they are going through.
We must also consider travel and boarding expenses, apart from the fact that they cannot have their loved ones from home rallying around them in support.
Health Ministry (medical) deputy director-general Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai said the proposal, which is part of the national cancer control blueprint, would hopefully become a reality in the next five to 10 years.
Part of the blueprint also includes a proposal to train more doctors to sub-specialise in oncology, due to the low number of oncologists in the country.
Currently, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example, do get treated by doctors of other disciplines in their respective home states, after they are seen by oncologists.
But this is limited to dispensing the drugs that had been prescribed by the cancer specialists.
Be that as it may, we need to be aware that cancer treatment is not just about the treatment itself, but must be seen in a holistic manner.
We must be careful that the hardware does not take priority over the software.
So while we can, and we should, invest in the necessary equipment to make treatment accessible, our priority should be on the doctors and paramedics, as well as palliative care staff.
State boundaries are helpful, but they need not necessarily be the only factor that determines where such centres should be set up.
The ministry should pay more attention to the cancer statistics, both present and projected, and map out where the centres can be built so that we do not have a situation where one may be under utilised, and another is swarming with patients.
The ministry can also reach out to cancer support groups in the urban centres to spread their message to the rural areas.
With the support of the ministry, they can help train the people on the ground to be sensitive to early warning signs, as well as how to care for the patients and caregivers.
It is important that all these be fully addressed when the blueprint is updated and refined to meet the challenges of the coming years.
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