VERY few would deny that cancer remains one of the world’s most dreaded diseases. Despite many years of research, the disease is still not fully tamed although there have been some progress in the diagnostics and therapeutics of some cancers.
Over the years, the survival rate has shown some increase but the search for a cure remains elusive. What will it take to turn cancer into just another chronic disease? HIV infection, which was at one time a dreaded disease, is now just as manageable as diabetes and hypertension. Can cancer be one day just as manageable?
This line of questioning is common in many recent discourses on cancer not only among the medical fraternity but also other academics, including vice-chancellor and president of UCSI University, Datuk Dr Khalid Yusof. Many groups have taken the lead in the nation’s fight to subdue the scourge of cancer and are joining hands to embark on a new initiative to declare a full-blown war on it. The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to launch this new initiative soon.
But can it make a difference? We have all had encounters with cancer. Some have personally experienced battling the disease while others have seen close family members succumbing to it. A number of my close friends have passed away due to cancer.
Put simply, cancer has become rather common.
Many reasons have been cited for the rise in the number of cases. Better availability of statistics is one. Other factors include the worsening environmental pollution, especially air pollution, the food we eat, and the uncontrolled use of unnatural chemical ingredients in our food. All these claims need detailed studies, of course.
What is clear, however, is that cancer is a multi-factor disease. Genetic disposition, for example, has been cited as one possible factor.
The treatment of cancer also involves many approaches. Doctors would often prescribe a combination of surgery, drugs, radiotherapy and other forms of therapy.
Many treatments based on traditional medicines have also been tried. But whatever it is, early detection has proven to be best way to fight the disease.
The problem is many are not aware of the disease until it has reached a critical stage. This is where public awareness campaigns come in and must be held as often as possible.
It is obvious that research is key to winning the war on cancer. There has to be better coordination among the research groups in this country and also collaboration with international research partners to build our own globally-recognised experts.
Look at our traditional methods of treating cancer, for example. As a country with many ethnic groups, there are numerous traditional remedies for cancer here. Many are based on herbal concoctions but there have been reports of some traditional therapies based on certain species of insects.
In Sarawak, for example, the Penans are known to have been using local insects to treat cancer in their community. It would be pertinent to conduct scientific studies to confirm the mechanism of this therapy and its active compounds.
Funding, talent and state-of-the-art research facilities are also critical factors in fighting the war on cancer. A national research and development (R&D) laboratory devoted to this may be worth considering. Most of the funding may have to initially come from the government but over time, the public and corporate sector may be persuaded to chip in.
Looking at the way Malaysians are contributing to Tabung Harapan, there should be positive response in the fight against cancer too.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia