By See Foon Chan-Koppen
“When I discovered how committed Fatimah Hospital is to cancer care, I was motivated to move to Ipoh and dedicate my services to assist in creating one of the best oncology centres that Malaysia has to offer,” declared Dr Chan Wee Han, the new oncologist who has begun treating patients in Ipoh’s Fatimah Hospital.
“I didn’t believe it at first, but the hospital which is a non profit hospital and because of its mission of service to the community, is putting an enormous amount of money into building this eight-storey comprehensive cancer centre. The first three floors will be dedicated to cancer services whereby it will have a separate entrance for oncology patients. When completed towards the end of this year, the cancer centre will have arguably the most advanced radiotherapy treatment machine in the world. It is planned as a reference centre for radiation technology and combined with a day-care chemotherapy centre in the same building, Fatimah Hospital will serve as a beacon of light and hope for oncology treatment in all of Malaysia and perhaps in the region,” he added.
Youngest Oncologist in Malaysia
Dr Chan was conferred the MBBS degree in 2001 and received his Masters in Clinical Oncology from the University of Malaya in 2009. Practising for 2 years as Clinical Oncologist in Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Dr Chan was the youngest oncologist in Malaysia at that time. His interest in cancer care began even as a medical student where he attached himself to Hospice Malaysia and the palliative care unit in Kuantan GH, which he subsequently took charge of after completion of his housemanship.
In 2007, Dr Chan was part of the team to finalise plans for the National Cancer Centre, where he gained valuable insights in the setting up of a cancer treatment centre. Also in the same year, he was part of the scientific committee to produce the Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia’s chemotherapy protocol.
Need To Make A Difference
Realising the need for oncological services in many parts of this country, he looked hard for a hospital where he could make a difference to the community. He decided on Fatimah Hospital as it was a not-for-profit, well-equipped multi-disciplinary hospital with a reputation of good affordable care to the community. Moreover, Fatimah was planning to build a comprehensive cancer centre which would have some of the most advanced services in the region. He therefore spent the entire year of 2010 together with the hospital in planning and developing their cancer services.
As he waits for completion of the cancer centre and the arrival of the state-of-the-art radiotherapy machine, Dr Chan is currently offering all forms of non-radiotherapy treatment including chemotherapy, anti-hormonal therapy and other oncological support services. Already, a proper Cytotoxic Drug Reconstitution facility is in place with chemotherapy drugs prepared in-house to ensure accuracy and safety. These are administered by an experienced oncology nurse with post-graduate oncology training and who has worked in a large oncology centre for more than 5 years.
Advanced Radiation Techniques to be Available
When the radiotherapy machine is functional at the end of this year, Dr Chan will be able to offer advanced radiation techniques such as IMRT (intensity modulated radiotherapy based on thickness, size, and irregularity of tumour)); IGRT (image guided radiotherapy where CT scan is used to target the radiotherapy beam); Volumetric Modulated Arc therapy where the machine not only shoots on the move but will vary its intensity as it does so. In addition, they will have brachytherapy services which is localised radiation where the radiation source is inserted into or beside the tumour.
“None of these treatments are available in Perak at the moment. Once the machine is installed, it’ll be the first in Malaysia and perhaps even in the region,” added Dr Chan enthusiastically.
“Building a House”
Dr Chan likens the process of oncology work to that of building a house. The oncologist is the Architect. The Physicist who does dose calculations can be likened to the civil engineer while the therapeutic radiographer who delivers the actual dosage is the workman on site.
“I follow a strict protocol where each patient is individually assessed, the diagnosis confirmed with the referring physician before we discuss treatment options. What is important is that patients must feel better as a result of the treatments. I therefore conduct quality of life assessments as we proceed with the treatment protocol.”
“One area of radiotherapy treatment that most people are unfamiliar with is that of pain control. When radiation is delivered to a tumour, pain can be reduced and similarly with bleeding, so radiotherapy can also be palliative for very advanced cancers,” he added.
“The one advice I have for patients is to go to a doctor at the first sign that something is wrong. A large number of people wait too long or go to their herbalists or naturopaths hoping for a cure and by the time they present themselves to us, their cancer is at a late stage and difficult to treat. Cancer when treated early is highly curable now. So don’t wait. See your doctor at the first sign that something is remiss,” Dr Chan concluded.
Contact details: Dr Chan Wee Han, Resident Consultant Oncologist and Radiotherapist, Hospital Fatimah 05-5455777.