Roles Traditional Healers Play in Cancer Treatment in Malaysia: Implications for Health Promotion and Education


Background: For a number of reasons from cultural compatibility, to accessibility, to cost, traditional healersare a major source of health care in developing countries. In Malaysia, it’s been estimated that upwards of 80%of the population consult traditional healers even if simultaneously seeking treatment from the Western medicalsystem. Partially as a result of the widespread practice of visiting traditional healers, cancer diagnosis andtreatment in Malaysia is often delayed or interrupted resulting in late presentation, advanced stage diagnosis, anda higher mortality rate than in Western countries. However, there is very little research on the role of traditionalhealers in cancer treatment in Malaysia. Materials and
Methods: This qualitative study was designed to identifythe roles traditional healers play in cancer diagnosis and treatment, with an eye to alleviating the cancer burdenthrough educational responses with four publics in mind—policy makers, Western medical personnel, traditionalhealers, and the general public. In-depth interviews were conducted with 14 Malay traditional healers, 13cancer survivors who had seen both traditional healers and Western doctors, and 12 cancer medical specialists.
Results: Analysis of the data from these 39 participants revealed four roles traditional healers play in cancertreatment—medicinal healer, emotional comforter, spiritual guide, and palliative caregiver.
Conclusions: Threeroles (emotional, spiritual, palliative) can be seen as complementary to the allopathic system. Emotional andspiritual roles may augment the effectiveness of biomedical treatment. Cancer awareness and education programsneed to position traditional healers as complementary, rather than an alternative to Western medical treatment;Validating the roles Traditional Healers can play in cancer treatment in MY through health promotion andeducation will contribute to alleviating the nation’s cancer burden.