IT is expected to hit one in four Malaysians before the age of 75 but many are still woefully unprepared for it.
In 2012, there were over 37,400 new cases of cancer and 21,700 cancer deaths in Malaysia.
Many of us would have witnessed family or friends battle the disease, and are aware of the physical and emotional toll it takes on family.
The recent ASEAN Costs in Oncology (ACTION) study by The George Institute for Global Health highlighted the financial impact, reporting that 45% of cancer patients suffered from financial catastrophe a year after diagnosis, while 11% did not make it past the first year.
At a recent AIA Bhd panel discussion called Cancer’s Hidden Price Tag: Financial Preparedness Equals Better Outcomes, Dr Muhammad Azrif Ahmad Annuar, a consultant oncologist at Prince Court Medical Centre, said that over the past 20 years, there have been significant advances made in the treatment of both common and rare cancers, leading to longer patient survival and improved quality of life.
This progress is reflected in every area of cancer care — prevention, screening, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, surgery, radiation therapy, and supportive care for side effects, he added.
“Unfortunately, in Malaysia, many patients tend to have their cancers detected late, making it difficult for them to obtain optimal treatment at the earliest opportunity. Cost is the other major factor that hinders effective treatment methods.”
The combination of late detection and treatment costs are the biggest economic concerns among the lower-income segment and under-insured — the two groups that make up 66% of cancer patients in Malaysia suffering from financial mess.
Dr Myralini S Thesan, AIA Health Services medical advisor added that cancer is the third leading cause of premature death in Malaysia.
“Many of those deaths would be avoidable if there were more efforts to step up early detection and increased awareness about strengthening financial protection.
“Currently, only 22% of Malaysians have medical insurance or critical illness insurance, which leaves a large segment of the population at risk of facing financial catastrophe if diagnosed with cancer.”
Thomas Wong, AIA Bhd chief marketing officer, said that the ACTION study was significant as it indicated a cancer diagnosis in Malaysia appeared to be associated with substantial financial loss and premature death.
“The findings by George Institute point to the fact that health insurance is the most visible means of minimising the out-of-pocket costs of treatment, offsetting the risk of catastrophic expenditure owing to illness and encouraging patients to comply with ongoing treatment,” he said.
He added that insurers had a role to play in offsetting this, and that cancer coverage has evolved to be more targeted and needs-specific rather than one-size-fits-all approach to medical coverage before, such as the 36 critical illnesses plan.
Insurers are now seeing the need to design more focused products based on the concerns of people at different life stages.
This makes providing comprehensive protection against a particular disease, such as cancer, more relevant for the consumer.
Targeted and needs-specific products also mean that more Malaysians will have access to medical protection plans.
The company’s latest A-Life Cancer360 plan, for instance, uses cancer-based underwriting parameters that only takes into account a person’s risk relating to cancer rather than their entire medical history.
At the panel discussion organised by AIA, coinciding with breast cancer awareness month in October and testicular cancer awareness month in November, the company also announced a campaign called Touching Him and Her, calling on Malaysians to perform self-examinations to detect early signs of those cancers.
“We want Malaysians to know that early detection saves lives,” said Wong.
The survival rate for breast and ovarian cancers can be as high as 90%, while the survival rate for early-stage lung cancer is 70%.
Treatment costs for early detection is also considerably lower; when detected at a more advanced stage, a combination of treatments may be required thus further driving up the cost of treatment.
“As such, it is important that we all take charge of our health to enable us to detect diseases early in order to enjoy better medical outcomes,” added Wong.
To learn how to perform self-checks for breast and testicular cancer, visit www.TouchingHimAndHer.com.my