Malaysians still unaware of cancer’s top symptoms

April 5, 2018 – for immediate release

Colorectal cancer is now the top cancer among men – overtaking lung cancer – but hundreds of Malaysians are still unaware of its signs and symptoms, a study shows.

These findings are driving Be Cancer Alert — a new cancer awareness campaign that emphasises the importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer, as well as recognising signs and symptoms of this disease.

“We carried out a National Cancer Awareness Benchmarking survey in 2014 among nearly 2,000 Malaysians prior to the Be Cancer Alert campaign, and found that 50 per cent of respondents were unaware that changes in bowel habits are a symptom of colorectal cancer,” says the Principal Investigator of the campaign Associate Professor Tin Tin Su of UM.

“As people who recognise the symptoms are 60 per cent more likely to see a doctor than those who don’t, this calls for a need to raise society’s awareness of the cancer.”

Also, nearly 90 per cent of respondents above 50 years old – the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening – have not attended a colorectal cancer screening in the last five years.

“The low level of awareness as well as the lack of motivation to go for screenings is a major concern,” says Assoc. Prof. Su. “The previous finding indicates that Malaysians are at risk of late detection – leading to a lower chance of survival – and that there is a need for a colorectal cancer awareness raising campaign.

“The public needs to know that colorectal cancer can be cured if found and treated early.”

Starting in April, the Be Cancer Alert campaign will promote the importance of recognising signs and symptoms through TV and radio commercials, a website, social media, as well as street buntings and poster displays in clinics. The team will then determine the effectiveness of the awareness activities.

Dr Saunthari Somasundaram, President and Medical Director of the National Cancer Society of Malaysia, explains that around 65 per cent of colorectal cancer cases in the country were detected late (stage 3 or 4).

“This applies to both men and women,” Dr Saunthari says. “Many Malaysians think colorectal cancer only affects men, but this is not true,” Dr Saunthari says. “The number of women with colorectal cancer has now surpassed that of cervical cancer.”

“So everyone aged 50 and above should be undergoing the faecal occult blood test annually, as this test can identify early stage cancers and increases the chances of cure.”

The team advises that people should not be shy to check their stool and monitor their bowel habits, this simple habit can help notice potential colorectal cancer warning signs early.

The Be Cancer Alert campaign will run from the 2nd of April until the 6th of May and its effectiveness will be evaluated by a research collaboration between University of Malaya and Queen’s University Belfast.

Other findings from the National Cancer Awareness Benchmarking 2014 survey include:

  • Nearly 35 per cent of respondents listed lack of time as a barrier to see the doctor
  • Malay respondents are more likely to think that cancer treatment is worse than the disease itself
  • Respondents without a tertiary education are more likely to believe that cancer ‘is a death sentence’.
  • Respondents aged 50 years or above, prefer not to know if they have cancer, compared with those aged 40-49, the survey reveals.


The Be Cancer Alert Campaign 

The Be Cancer Alert Campaign is a collaborative project between the University of Malaya, Queen’s University Belfast and the National Cancer Society Malaysia. The project is funded by the Newton Ungku-Omar Fund and Academy of Sciences Malaysia. Campaign key messages were adapted from successfully run campaigns by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland to suit the Malaysian context.


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