Lung cancer among non-smokers on the rise

A holistic solution is needed to contain the problem, LCNM president says


THE number of lung cancer cases among non-smokers or those who have never smoked are increasing in Taiwan and Singapore but that does not mean Malaysia is an exception.

Lung Cancer Network Malaysia (LCNM) president Dr Anand Sachithanandan also did not dismiss the possibility that similar scenarios are happening in Malaysia, based on anecdotal experience.

“When I talk to my colleagues in the different specialities treating lung cancer who are surgeons, physicians and oncologists, we will anecdotally estimate anywhere from 20% to even 30%,” he said.

The prevalence of smoking in Malaysia remains very high among adult males over 18 years old which is around 45% to 48%.

That means one out of every two adult male Malaysians smokes but the number is relatively low among females which amounts to only 2% to 3%. Still, the numbers are increasing.

He suspects that the rise in lung cancer cases is due to second-hand or third-hand passive smokers.

“For Singapore and Taiwan, it’s estimated that almost 50%, almost one in two of those who are diagnosed with lung cancer are never smokers or non-smokers.

“Now, whether we can extrapolate from Taiwan and from Singapore, maybe it’s slightly more homogenous, there’s a higher proportion of ethnic Chinese compared to Malaysia,” he shared the data during the launch of “New Normal, Same Cancer” campaign press conference.

To contain this problem, Dr Sachithanandan calls for a move towards a smoke-free culture.

“I feel very strongly that we need to protect the majority of women who are non-smokers and children as they don’t really have much of a choice.

“So, if you decide to smoke, it’s a personal right but you need to do it considerately,” he said.

A dedicated space for smokers is recommended, but Dr Sachithanandan said enforcement needs to be stern for those that smoke within the parameters such as eateries.

Those who are smokers or former smokers aged 45 years and above are at risk but Dr Sachithanandan also advised the non-smokers who have a family history of lung cancer to be screened for the disease.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a very large impact for cancer care as patients has held back on their scheduled treatments and neglected their routine screenings at hospitals.

As a result, there has been a reported drop in the rate of cancer diagnosis and patients seeking treatments.

According to AstraZeneca Malaysia country manager Dr Sanjeev Panchal, delays in cancer screening and diagnosis have resulted in the delay of patient care in receiving effective treatment.

“Research has clearly highlighted that any interruption to the cancer care pathway can be detrimental to patient outcomes so it is critical that patients return to cancer care,” he explained.

Therefore, AstraZeneca has partnered with LCNM and the National Cancer Society Malaysia to launch the campaign, which was first initiated globally in 2020.

This helps AstraZeneca to work with cancer societies in different countries to bring patients back to cancer care.

“In this campaign, we really aim to support diagnosed patients to re-engage in medical settings and create screening and diagnosis and advanced policy for the patient care.

“So, we are partnering to improve cancer care here which is a significant health concern in Malaysia,” said Dr Panchal during his opening remarks.

AstraZeneca has also partnered with these two societies on other patient-centric initiatives and awareness programmes.

“Non-communicable disease (NCD) such as cancer are on the rise in Malaysia.

“Annually about 50,000 Malaysians are diagnosed with cancer and it is estimated that one in every four Malaysians are likely to develop cancer by the age of 75 years,” he added.

As a global healthcare company, AstraZeneca plays an important role in supporting Malaysia’s battle against NCDs.