What causes cancer and how to prevent It?

31 March 2023 | Kuala Lumpur

Cancer is a condition that involves a group of cells that grow abnormally with and have the potential to invade other parts of the body. They can form tumours that may be benign or malignant and could disrupt regular body functions. If malignant tumours spread, they can become life threatening.

It is always best to talk to your doctor if you have a family history of cancer or are worried that you might have inherited genes that raise your chance of developing cancer.

In this article, you will learn about the causes of cancer, the types of cancer, and how to prevent cancer.

What causes cancer?

While we may not be able to pinpoint what specifically causes cancer in an individual, it is generally caused by mutations, or changes to the DNA in cells and can also be inherited. Additionally,

different types of cancer have different growth rates. The reason some people develop cancer while others don’t is the growth rate. For example, osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone cancer, has the highest growth rate. Other factors include age, health and environmental factors. The World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that the incidence of cancer tends to increase with age. This could be linked to cellular repair mechanisms that are less effective due to aging.


Cancer Statistics in Malaysia

According to National Cancer Institute (NCI), cancer is characterised by the growth of abnormal cells in organs or tissues. Cancer is most common among adults and seniors. Incidence rates have increased since 19th century as lifestyle changes have occurred. Malaysia is reporting more and more cases each year and in April 2022, The Star reports cancer is set to rise by 2030. The National Cancer Registry Report 2010-2016 shows that one in ten people in Malaysia will get cancer in the lifetimes.


What types of cancer are there?

In Malaysia, the leading types of cancers include:

  • Breast Cancer

    The type of cancer that affects most women. Breast tissues can become cancerous when they develop malignant (cancer) cells. Mammograms can detect breast cancer early, possibly even before it has spread. Follow the link for more reading on breast cancer.Colorectal Cancer

  • A growth inside the colon or rectum known as a polyp frequently marks the beginning of colorectal cancer. In order to avoid colorectal cancer, polyps should be found and removed. Learn more on colorectal cancer.

  • Lung Cancer

    Small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer are the two main kinds of lung cancer. Although non-smokers can also get lung cancer, smokers are more likely at risk. Read more on lung cancer.

  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer

    Cancers of the larynx, throat, lips, mouth, nose, and salivary glands are among the head and neck cancers. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, strong alcohol consumption, and tobacco use are among the causes that raise the risk of head and neck cancer. Here’s more information on nasopharyngeal cancer.

  • Liver Cancer

    Primary liver cancer is a condition in which the tissues of the liver develop malignant (cancer) cells. Primary liver cancer is not the same as cancer that starts in another place of the body and travels to the liver. One of the body's major organs, the liver produces bile to break down fat from food, stores sugar or glycogen for energy, and filters toxic elements from the blood so they may be expelled through stools and urine. More information on liver cancer.

Discover the full list of cancers here.


Cancer diagnosis in men and women

Five Most Frequent Cancers by Gender in Malaysia


    Men Women
    Lung Cancer (17%) Breast Cancer (32.9%)
    Colorectal Cancer (15.4%) Colorectal Cancer (11.9%)
    Prostate Cancer (9.3%) Ovary Cancer (7.2%)
    Nasopharynx Cancer (7.4%) Cervix Uteri Cancer (6.8%)
    Liver Cancer (6.7%) Corpus Uteri Cancer (5.5%)
    Source: Cancer Statistics | Gleneagles Hospitals


Cancers are named after the area where they first appeared and the cells that compromise them. That means, if a cancer begins in the liver and spreads to the colon, it will still be called liver cancer.

Here are some general clinical terms for cancer and what they mean:

•    Leukaemia – Cancer of the bone marrow, which functions to create blood cells.

•    Lymphoma and Myeloma – Immune system cancers.

•    Sarcoma – Connective tissue cancers like muscles, cartilage, bones and blood vessels.

•    Carcinoma – Skin cancer or other organ lining tissue cancer


How to prevent cancer?

Preventing cancer has become even more important as the number of cases reported increases. Technological advancements and research have helped healthcare practitioners access better tools and treatments, which in turn allows patients to live longer and even fight off cancer. Read about cancer treatment options here.

While setting up protections and safety nets when such incidents occur is important, it is also Vital for us to do what we can to lead a healthier lifestyle. WHO also reports that prevention offers the most cost-effective and long-term strategy to prevent cancer.

Therefore, there are habits that we can adopt to prevent the likelihood of developing cancer.

  • Get Vaccination

    Getting the vaccine shots that your doctor suggests can help lower the risk of cancer. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine shots help prevent some types of cancers. The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) prevents most cervical cancers and several others, while the hepatitis B vaccine helps lower the risks of liver cancer.

  • Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle

    You don’t need to jump into extreme measures to change your current lifestyle if you’re concerned about the risk of cancer. You can begin making gradual changes to your lifestyle one step at a time and your body will begin to thank you.

    a. Measuring your Body Mass Index (BMI) and making plans to change your lifestyle to achieve an optimal BMI

    b. Physically active – Make it a point to sit for shorter periods of time and walk more. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to make yourself physically active.

    c. Incorporate a nutritious diet – Occasionally swapping that fast food take out or processed food indulgence for other healthy options that contain more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and pulses may help with easing into a long-term healthier diet.

    d. Tobacco and alcohol – You may want to start gently kicking the tobacco habit, as it helps to reduce the risk of lung cancer significantly. Studies have also shown that lowering alcohol consumption helps you cut down on calories as alcohol contains surprising amounts of them.

  • Regular Screening Tests

    Getting regular screening tests increases the possibility of finding cancers such as breast, cervical and colorectal (colon) cancers early. For some cases of cancer, early detection is key to better treatment outcomes.  Learn more about screening and early detection here.

Although cancer may be a deadly disease caused by genetic alterations in cells, studies have shown how vaccines and early screenings can help us fight it off better. We should also make active health decisions by avoiding the risk factors that cause cancer like tobacco, alcohol, bad diet, and high BMI.


Why getting a cancer insurance/takaful is important

Cancer insurance or cancer takaful plans ensure that you are financially protected if cancer strikes. It works by paying out a lumpsum upon the diagnosis of cancer, whereas some plans pay out even if the cancer is detected early. This pay-out will be useful for medical treatments, deductibles, alternative treatments, loss of income, and other living expenses as you learn to cope with this illness.

Here are reasons why you should get a cancer coverage plan:

1) Medical treatments can be costly - the cost to treat cancer can go as high as RM395,000. Chemotherapy is estimated to be RM75,000 per cycle.

2) Your medical plan may not be sufficient to pay for other out-of-pocket expenses, such as caregiving, transportation, and loss of income as recovery time may take awhile.

3) There’s a history of cancer in your family.


Get a peace of mind

You can prevent cancer by getting vaccinated, adopting healthy habits, and getting an early screening. However, cancer can still happen to anyone, and if it does, a cancer coverage plan will ensure that you are financially protected from the costs of a diagnosis.

Get covered now with our cancer coverage takaful plan, FWD Care Direct, from as low as RM10.83/month. To ensure you get the coverage and financial support you deserve at all stages, the plan provides a lump sum pay out of up to RM250,000 upon diagnosis of cancer including stage 0 (carcinoma in situ). Get a cancer coverage takaful quote now.