Wednesday, July 17

Getting the right treatment for childhood cancer


Dr Ong (back right) with the newly-elected committee. Second-term president Jocelyn Hee is seated at second right.

THERE is a strong predisposition towards randomly putting a finger on the causes that contribute to the occurrence of childhood cancer.

There are more myths than solid medical evidence behind the reasons given to explain why and how the disease manifests itself without warning.

The mother must have eaten something during pregnancy. It could be contagious. Chemotherapy could kill the child but traditional medicine could probably save it. These are some of the beliefs commonly held among the population at large.

But when do we begin to really learn about childhood cancer? Do we wait until it happens to our own child?

Dr Ong Eng Joe

Myth or truth

Sarawak Children’s Cancer Society (SCCS) vice-president Dr Ong Eng Joe feels there’s a need to say once and for all that the factors leading to childhood cancer have yet to be found and wild guesses benefit no one except hurt the affected family even more.

“Even though medically we don’t know yet how and why children get cancer at such a young age, I strongly believe, as a medical professional, we are striving all the time to prevent the occurrence of childhood cancer – that no child should die at the dawn of life,” he told thesundaypost.

“Though we don’t have the reason why it happens, there is hope as the majority of leukaemia-stricken children can be cured. This is solid proof that cancer is not necessarily fatal,” explained Dr Ong, a haemato-oncologist.

Hematology-oncology is defined as the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of blood diseases (hematology) and cancer (oncology) and research into them.

He pointed out that those who opted for alternative treatments over chemotherapy could delay the necessary treatment for the patient.

“The right place for the family of the patient is not alternative treatment or therapy, the results of which we’ve so far not seen. It could possibly endanger the patient’s life.”

Dr Ong encourages more medical professionals, particularly doctors, to come to the hospital, and share their experience in dealing with cancer patients.

“In my career, I have not seen cancer patients going for traditional treatment and getting cured. But I have seen a lot of patients who are cured after receiving proven treatment in hospital.

“This is the best example why it’s always better to seek professional and proven treatments rather than looking for unproven alternatives.”

A patient flown to hospital in a helicopter. Unfortunately, the patient passed away soon after.

Healthy lifestyle

Dr Ong emphasised that everyone should practise a basic healthy lifestyle.

“You may realise the Malaysian government and the medical fraternity worldwide are also emphasising on healthy lifestyles which include eating healthy – more fresh fruits, vegetables, less sugar and less salt – adequate exercise and more importantly, no smoking.

“These are actually the things all should endeavour to practise to achieve optimal health.”

For cancer patients, the
dietary practices should only be based on advice by the doctor and dietitian.

“Parents often ask whether it’s better to let their cancer-stricken children eat fresh food or supplements. I would suggest it’s always best to ask their doctor instead of trying on your own.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that cancer patients may have their own special needs in terms of dietary intake and the nutrients they need. So I would highly recommend not to try anything without the doctor’s advice,” he reiterated.

Dr Ong, who is also a consultant paediatrician, stressed it is best to ask for a second opinion before turning to supplements.

“Often, the testimonial of one consumer, after trying a certain product, cannot be presumed to imply that it also applies to other cases.

“One patient may be different from the other. A lot of factors have to be taken into account such as the patient’s illness, the period of affliction, the background and the kinds of treatment previously sought.

“A testimonial without proper scientific study cannot be the standard measure for others. It’s vital to note the possible side effects that might arise.”


Last year’s SCCS Youth Camp for cancer survivors.

Role of SCCS

Dr Ong, who has just been elected as SCCS vice-president for 2018 to 2019, is positive about the role played by the society in promoting the awareness of childhood cancer.

“Parents with children suffering childhood cancer who have been referred to or sought help from the society, are often those who believe modern medicine and proven treatment could save their children.

“Over the years, the awareness of childhood cancer has gradually increased but it is still a work in progress. The mainstream media can help to dispel some of the misleading information found on the Internet and social media.

“People can say whatever they want but at the end of the day, the decision is in the hands of the patients and parents whether to believe it or not,” he said.

The Go Bald Campaign in Miri.

He added that SCCS, through events such as the Go Bald Campaign, Colour Rush, and Gold Ribbon Week, is playing an important role in raising awareness and bringing out the word of cancer survivors on their struggles with the disease.

“The survivors are living proof of the proven treatment that cured them. They will continue to help others by sharing their stories and encouraging new patients to get the right treatment.”

Dr Ong has more than 10 years’ experience as a general paediatrician and haemato-oncologist.

He has been involved in treating children with cancer as part of his residency training since 2000.

“I’m here to help parents who want to help their children. The ones who are here with SCCS are those who want the best for their children. And I’m happy those who survived cancer are willing to continue coming out to help the new patients,” he said.

SCCS is non-profit organisation that supports children and their families in the battle against cancer.

Since its formation in 1999, its events such as Go Bald and Colour Rush have successfully disseminated information and awareness of cancer.

For its Go Bald Campaign this year, nearly 1,000 volunteers shaved their heads for a worthy cause. About RM900,000 was raised for various services to help cancer-stricken children and their families.

The upcoming Colour Rush is scheduled for September in conjunction with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

This charity run event will take place at Saradise Kuching on Sept 17, Miri Marina Central Park on Sept 23, and Sibu Town Square on Sept 30.

A scene from the Colour Rush Charity Run in Miri last year.