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Racial demographics of cancer

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Chinese most at risk of colorectal, prostate and lung afflictions, but are also the most aware group

PETALING JAYA: Believe it or not, your racial origin may play a role in determining your risk of getting cancer.

Among Malaysians, the Chinese are the worst off. They are most prone to colorectal, breast, prostrate and lung cancers.

While lifestyle choices have some impact on one’s risk to certain cancers, there is no evidence to show the same with other forms of the disease.

For instance, higher consumption of red meat, fats and processed food combined with low fibre intake raise the risk of getting colorectal cancer, according to Dr Luqman Mazlan, a consultant surgeon (colorectal cancer) at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

But one’s risk of getting breast cancer cannot be directly linked to lifestyle choices, said Luqman’s colleague Dr Azlina Firzah Abdul Aziz, a consultant surgeon specialising in breast and endocrine cancers.

In 75% to 80% of cancer cases, there was no genetic evidence linking the affliction to family health history, the two oncologists said.

Azlina and Luqman were elaborating on the content of a feature they wrote recently stating that while cancer shows a higher prevalence among the Chinese, it is the Malays who generally react with more dramatic responses.

“In my experience, some of these (Malay) patients opt to seek alternative treatment elsewhere, only to return later for formal treatment, by which time their condition has likely worsened,” Luqman said in the paper.

According to him, the Chinese have a 19.6% chance of getting colorectal cancer, compared with 12.2% for Malays and 11% for Indians.

The numbers are based on the Malaysian National Cancer Registry for 2019, the latest data available.

But while the Chinese are at greatest risk, their chance of developing colorectal cancer is dropping, as it is for the Indian community.

Luqman said the risk is rising among the Malays. He attributed this to the tendency of some cancer patients to ignore medical advice in favour of alternative treatment, resulting in worsening of their condition.

Among breast cancer sufferers, the Chinese are also most at risk. There is a 40.7% risk of them developing the condition, compared with 38.1% for Indians and 31.5% for Malays, Azlina said.

The racial slant is the same for lung cancers. The Chinese have a 16% risk, followed by 12.5% for Malays and 5.7% for Indians.

The Chinese also have the highest risk of developing prostate cancer, at 10.1%, compared with 6.8% among the Indians and 6.3% among the Malays, Luqman said.

Overall, Malaysians are most prone to breast cancer – for both men and women. While genetics has been ruled out in a majority of sufferers, Azlina said that in some cases, inherited mutations of some genes could lead to abnormal cell growth that results in cancer.

While some cancers cannot be prevented, lifestyle changes can help in others. For instance, stubbing out the smoking habit can lower the risk of lung cancer.

Early detection also helps, according to both Azlina and Luqman. They noted that the Chinese tend to be more aware, leading them to seek treatment earlier.

Originally published by SHIVANI SUPRAMANI
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