Embracing life

25 Nov 2019 / 10:22 H.

METASTATIC breast cancer (mBC), the most advanced stage of breast cancer, in which cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body – remains an incurable condition and is the second leading cause of cancer death among women today.

Furthermore, the emotional toll of mBC can be profound, and can affect how people feel about themselves, communicate with others and live their lives.

Even when diagnosed at an early stage, up to 30% of women with early breast cancer will eventually progress to metastatic disease.

While awareness of breast cancer is high, thanks to cultural collective of breast cancer advocacy and awareness activities, the knowledge of mBC still remains low. About three in five surveyed say they know little to nothing about metastatic breast cancer.

Pfizer Malaysia, in partnership with Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia (BCWA), aims to elevate public understanding of metastatic breast cancer, dispel misperceptions, combat stigma, and expand the breast cancer conversation to be more inclusive of metastatic breast cancer.

A survey was conducted by the BCWA in September to find out the mBC literacy level among Malaysians including knowledge, behaviours, and treatment-seeking approaches. The survey was supported by Pfizer Malaysia, which recently organised a media event to present the survey results, and to share further knowledge about mBC.

At the event, BCWA president Ranjit Kaur said: “We undertook this survey to understand and address gaps in the metastatic breast cancer dialogue across a spectrum of respondents. The survey yielded results that not only help us realise where the misunderstandings are, but also help point us to what needs to be done next.”

Based on the survey, 70% of respondents cited poor awareness of treatment options as one of the major barriers preventing mBC patients from seeking effective medical treatment, second to affordability.

“Improved access to information on mBC and professional guidance on the risks, benefits, and uncertainties of different treatment options can empower mBC patients in making personalised and informed decisions that will allow them to live life to the fullest,” added Ranjit.

Three out of five people surveyed believed that mBC is caused by late detection of breast cancer. This misconception may lead to the stigmatisation of people with mBC.

It’s important to understand that breast cancer is a multi-dimensional disease with distinct characteristics, patient needs, and outcomes.

Ranjit added: “The burden of the disease should not be shouldered by the patient alone. Speaking from my personal experience, I know how overwhelming a breast cancer diagnosis can be. It is especially frightening if you don’t know what to expect and who to turn to.

“That is why BCWA is committed to providing psychosocial peer support, practical assistance, and educational resources. The time has come for those of us living with breast cancer – the early, the advanced and the metastatic – to feel equally embraced.

“We are pleased to be partnering with Pfizer once more to get the message out to even more people.”

About 62% of survey respondents also believed that mBC was untreatable. The truth is many patients can live long, fulfilling, and productive lives while being treated for metastatic disease. There are many approaches to treating mBC and new treatments are being tested every day.

The event also featured a presentation on mBC by Prof. Emeritus Datuk Dr Yip Cheng-Har, who said: “Each patient’s treatment plan will be different because each breast cancer is unique. More importantly, the patient can have confidence that there are a wide variety of metastatic treatment options available.

“While mBC can’t be cured, the goal of mBC treatment is to slow or stop cancer growth while maintaining patients’ quality of life.”

Yip also emphasised the importance of access to treatment options and professional guidance to the risks and benefits. The survey revealed about 80% of survey respondents believed that affordability is the main barrier preventing patients from seeking effective medical treatment.

Yip added: “I understand that affordability remains one of the main barriers faced by patients when it comes to mBC treatments.

“There are several financing options in Malaysia that support mBC patients, for example, government hospitals, SOCSO & EPF, insurance and patient assistance programs such as EMBRACE. Speak to your doctor to learn more.”

EMBRACE is a patient assistance programme launched by Pfizer to support HR+/HER2- mBC patients’ treatment continuity for improved outcome and better quality of life.

Through this programme, mBC patients can better plan their finances and gain access to innovative medical treatments.

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