Within Malaysia's otherwise highly accessible public healthcare system, palliative medicine is still an underdeveloped discipline. Government surveys have shown that opioid consumption in Malaysia is dramatically lower than the global average, indicating a failure to meet the need for adequate pain control in terminally ill patients. Indeed, based on daily defined doses, only 24% of patients suffering from cancer pain receive regular opioid analgesia. The main barriers to effective pain control in Malaysia relate to physicians' and patients' attitudes towards the use of opioids. In one survey of physicians, 46% felt they lacked knowledge to manage patients with severe cancer pain, and 64% feared effects such as respiratory depression. Fear of addiction is common amongst patients, as is confusion regarding the legality of opioids. Additional barriers include the fact that no training in palliative care is given to medical students, and that smaller clinics often lack facilities to prepare and stock cheap oral morphine. A number of initiatives aim to improve the situation, including the establishment of palliative care departments in hospitals and implementation of post-graduate training programmes. Campaigns to raise public awareness are expected to increase patient demand for adequate cancer pain relief as part of good care.
BACKGROUND: Monitoring acute postoperative pain as the fifth vital sign is currently practiced in many developed countries. In Sarawak, pain is an important symptom as 70% of cancer patients present with advanced disease. As the existing validated pain assessment tools were found to be difficult to use, we studied the feasibility of modifying the use of a pain assessment tool, consisting of the short form of the Brief Pain Inventory and the Wong-Baker Faces Scale.
METHOD: This tool was used to document pain in all 169 patients who were admitted for pain control to the oncology ward between July 2000 and June 2001. Nurses were trained in the use of the modified scale before the start of the study.
RESULTS: The method was easy to use, and the mean number of days to reduce pain was found to be 3.1 days (SD: 2.9; median: 2 days; range: 1-31 days). At discharge, none in the group with initially mild pain had pain, and the severity of pain for 98% of patients with moderate pain and 61% with severe pain was downgraded to mild pain.
CONCLUSION: The staff found that the tool allowed continuous pain assessment in an objective manner.
The advent of advanced molecular targeted therapy has resulted in improved prognoses for patients with advanced malignancies. However, despite the significant success and specificity of this advocated targeted therapy, significant on- and off-target adverse effects and inter-individual variability in treatment responses have been reported. The interpatient variability in drug response has been suggested to be partly due to variations in patient genomes. Therefore, the identification of genetic biomarkers by conducting pharmacogenetics studies can help predict patient responses to targeted therapy and may serve as a basis for individualized treatment. In this review, both clinically established and potential molecular targets are highlighted. Overall, current literature suggests that individualization of targeted therapy is promising; however, integrating the clinical benefits of identified biomarkers into clinical practice for personalized medicine remains a major challenge, and further studies to validate these markers and identify novel therapeutic approaches are needed.