Open Access Research article

A qualitative exploration of Malaysian cancer patients’ perceptions of cancer screening

Maryam Farooqui12, Mohamed Azmi Hassali2, Aishah Knight3, Asrul Akmal Shafie2, Muhammad Aslam Farooqui4, Fahad Saleem25*, Noman-ul Haq25 and Hisham Aljadhey6

Author affiliations

1 Faculty of Pharmacy, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Penang, Malaysia

2 Discipline of Social and Administrative Pharmacy, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

3 Advanced Medical and Dental Institute, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

4 Department of Medicine, Allianze University College of Medical Sciences (AUCMS), Penang, Malaysia

5 Department of Pharmacy, University of Baluchistan, Quetta, Pakistan

6 College of Pharmacy, King Saud University, Riyadh, 11451, Saudi Arabia

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-48

Published: 18 January 2013



Despite the existence of different screening methods, the response to cancer screening is poor among Malaysians. The current study aims to examine cancer patients’ perceptions of cancer screening and early diagnosis.


A qualitative methodology was used to collect in-depth information from cancer patients. After obtaining institutional ethical approval, patients with different types and stages of cancer from the three major ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian) were approached. Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted. All interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English for thematic content analysis.


Thematic content analysis yielded four major themes: awareness of cancer screening, perceived benefits of cancer screening, perceived barriers to cancer screening, and cues to action. The majority of respondents had never heard of cancer screening before their diagnosis. Some participants reported hearing about mammogram and Pap smear tests but did not undergo screening due to a lack of belief in personal susceptibility. Those who had negative results from screening prior to diagnosis perceived such tests as untrustworthy. Lack of knowledge and financial constraints were reported as barriers to cancer screening. Finally, numerous suggestions were given to improve screening behaviour among healthy individuals, including the role of mass media in disseminating the message ‘prevention is better than cure’.


Patients’ narratives revealed some significant issues that were in line with the Health Belief Model which could explain negative health behaviour. The description of the personal experiences of people with cancer could provide many cues to action for those who have never encountered this potentially deadly disease, if incorporated into health promotion activities.

Cancer; Screening; Perceptions; Malaysia; Qualitative method