“Rural Sarawakian women need better access to breast cancer screening”

Agnes Padan

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KUCHING, Oct 22: Sarawak PKR Women chief Agnes Padan calls on the state government to ensure all women in rural Sarawak have access to breast cancer screening.

According to Agnes in a press statement, based on statistics from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019), the breast screening rate in Malaysia is extremely low and three in four women aged 40 and above have never had a mammogram.

“The situation in Sarawak is likely to be even worse but we do not have clear up-to-date statistics to show how many women in rural Sarawak participate in breast cancer screening.

“What we do know though is that nearly half of breast cancer cases in Malaysia are diagnosed late (stage 3 and stage 4) according to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry Report and as a result, the five-year survival rate for breast (cancer) is only around 66.8 per cent according to the Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival (MyScan),” she highlighted.

Agnes pointed out that in rural Sarawak, breast cancer awareness is extremely low and it is not uncommon to hear accounts of how women were not aware of breast lumps for months and sometimes even years due to ignorance, fear and stigma.

She added, it is often heard that friends, neighbours and family in the villages and longhouses are diagnosed with every advanced fungating breast tumour and by the time they seek medical help, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and they sadly pass away soon after.

“There are many barriers to accessing cancer care amongst Sarawakians in rural Sarawak. Firstly is the issue of education and awareness, where many women simply are not given education and support about the importance of regular breast examinations and what to do if they find a lump.

“Training community community women as healthcare champions and ensuring patient information is available in local languages is an essential step to educate women on breast health,” she added.

Secondly, she continued, Sarawakians face huge healthcare access issues when trying to access clinics or hospital services for further investigation and diagnosis.

She noted that village clinics are also not equipped with the facilities for breast ultrasounds or mammograms for screening and early detection.

“Hence there is an urgent need for mobile mammogram units to bring breast cancer screening facilities to every village and longhouse throughout Sarawak. Some women may live many hours from a district or specialist hospital and the journey to town may be too expensive, which is costing about RM200 to RM300.

“If they do make it to the hospital for initial assessment and biopsy, they may not be able to afford to return for their result and treatment.

“Thirdly, for those diagnosed with cancer, they and their family may face financial catastrophe if required to pay for hospital visits and any additional treatments not covered by the government,” she added.

Agnes also revealed that during the party’s community outreach programmes, it was found that the majority of cancer patients in rural Sarawak are unaware of My Salam or other welfare benefits that may help them throughout the course of their cancer treatment.

At the same time, she added, dedicated social workers teams are urgently needed to help these patients access the support and benefits they are entitled to.

“On behalf of all women in Sarawak, we urge the state government to urgently implement a dedicated state wide breast screening programme with a community education campaign, mobile mammogram units, rapid access assessment clinics and enhance our cancer treatment services in Sarawak. We cannot wait any longer whilst our women, wives, sisters, mothers and children die quietly in our longhouses and villages of breast cancer,” Agnes emphasised. — DayakDaily