Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in Malaysia


TOBACCO consumption in the country is the primary risk factor for the occurrence of cancer and accounted for 22% of cancer deaths.

The Health Ministry (MoH) estimated a cost of RM132.7 million to treat lung cancer due to smoking.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar (picture) said his ministry is currently examining the implementation of a smoking ban and the ownership of any smoking product to the next generation through the Generational End Game in the Tobacco and Smoking Control Act, which will be tabled soon.

“We hope to reduce the number of new smokers while focusing on the cost of treatment of existing patients,” he said in a recent statement in conjunction with World Cancer Day.

He added the MoH has been working hard to care and treat cancer patients and introduced the PeKa B40 programme to meet the health needs of the low-income group, which comprises specific cancer screening, medical equipment assistance, incentives to complete cancer treatment and transportation fare incentives.

However, with the increase of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and cancer cases, existing efforts are not sufficient and require a future-proof health system reform including a healthcare financing system.

Recently, the health minister suggested a ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to Malaysians born after 2005.

According to MoH, paperwork on this proposal will be prepared and tabled in Parliament with hopes that it will gain the support of both the government and opposition MPs.

Smoking is the predominant cancer contributor among men in Malaysia, with two out of five men smoking.

Previously, New Zealand unveiled its plans to stop young people from smoking by making the products off-limits to citizens born after 2008. In 2002, Boston initiated a similar ban.

“In conjunction with the celebration of World Cancer Day this year, I call on everyone to always practice a healthy lifestyle and take care of personal health as one of the main agendas in our daily lives.

“Let us work together and give solid support to the MoH to reduce the growing burden of cancer and together we can address the cancer care gap in our country,” Khairy Jamaluddin said.

The annual World Cancer Day is aimed to raise awareness and to invite the public to prevent and curb the increasing number of cancer cases. This year, the theme was “Close the Care Gap”.

Cancer is a type of NCD and the second primary cause of death in the world, with increasing deaths and cases yearly.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimation of 93% (19.3 million) new cases were detected in 2020 compared to 10 million cases in 2000, which led to a 42.9% increased number of cancer deaths for the past two decades from seven million to 10 million.

In Malaysia, MoH reported an 11% (115,238) increase in cases from 2012 to 2016, compared to 103,507 cases from 2007 to 2011.

Cancer is the primary cause of death in private hospitals with 34.95% and is the fourth top cause of death in government hospitals with 11.56%.

It is also the top 10 main reasons for hospital admission in both government (5.17%) and private hospitals (5.37%).

In addition, the three main types of cancer in Malaysia for men include colorectal or colon cancer (16.9%), lung cancer (14.8%) and prostate cancer (8.1%), while women are more prone to breast cancer (33.9%), colorectal cancer (10.7%) and cervical cancer (6.2%).

According to the MoH, the relative survival rates for cancer patients (after five years) is 11% for lung cancer, 51.1% for colorectal cancer, 51.6% for cervical cancer, 66.8% and 73.0% for breast cancer. However, 63.7% of all cancers are detected at a later stage.

One-third of cancer deaths in Malaysia encompasses tobacco use, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, low intake of vegetables and fruits, and physical inactivity.