Feb. 28, 2024

Strengthening Cancer Awareness in Malaysia: Creative Campaign Focused on Beauty Salons and Barbershops

Strengthening Cancer Awareness in Malaysia: Creative Campaign Focused on Beauty Salons and Barbershops

Over 60% of cancer cases in Malaysia are diagnosed at advanced stages,* emphasizing the urgent need for proactive measures to boost early screening rates and deepen community understanding of cancer. However, with low awareness, limited access to care, and cultural beliefs hindering widespread screening participation, a novel approach is required to make an impact.

To address these issues, the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) and the Asia Cancer Forum (ACF) launched a unique collaborative initiative: the "BEAUTY (Bringing Education And Understanding To You) & Health" program.
Astellas is proud to support the BEAUTY & Health program as a company fully committed to supporting activities to strengthen healthcare systems and improving health literacy by addressing local healthcare challenges head-on.

In this article, we delve into insights from the program's leading figures, exploring how a distinctive cross-border collaboration, coupled with an appreciation for the unique local culture, holds the potential to truly effect change in strengthening cancer awareness in Malaysia.


Barbershops and beauty salons as hubs for health awareness

In Malaysia, many people have limited access to preventive health knowledge, and it's uncommon for locals to undergo health check-ups or cancer screenings. Considering this, where could the optimal point of contact be to ensure universal access to health information, irrespective of ethnicity? The answer lies in the prevalence of barbershops and beauty salons, which are ubiquitous places in Malaysia, transcending cultural boundaries.

These establishments are deeply ingrained in Malaysian culture and function beyond grooming services; they act as central focal points for community gatherings and open communication, positioning them as ideal points of contact for health initiatives and awareness campaigns. With a historical practice of gender segregation, these venues provide a conducive setting for facilitating candid discussions on health-related matters.


Creative Campaign Focused on Beauty Salons and Barbershops
Launch event for the BEAUTY & Health program


A unique collaboration to make a meaningful contribution

A unique initiative such as the BEAUTY & Health program demands diverse skills and experience, qualities typically not concentrated within a single organization. Therefore, collaboration was key to driving success. This imperative led to the integration of the ACF's academic expertise with the NCSM's extensive experience spearheading cancer awareness campaigns in the country.

The ACF was founded in 2004 and, under the guidance of Dr. Norie Kawahara, directs social implementation initiatives in Asia to realize cancer care that leaves no one behind. In establishing the BEAUTY & Health program, the ACF envisions a future of widespread dissemination of information and a heightened awareness of cancer prevention and a society where patients become empowered to take charge of their health, fostering a continuous cycle of passing on this knowledge to subsequent generations.



The NCSM is Malaysia's oldest cancer non-governmental organization (NGO), and its work is built on three pillars: education, care, and support. Under the leadership of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Murallitharan Munisamy, the NCSM is working alongside the ACF to co-produce the BEAUTY & Health program's website, cancer screening registry portal, and educational materials, as well as being actively engaged in enhancing and expanding the program.



A three-year plan to build a robust platform

Through the program, the NCSM and ACF are aiming to merge the digital realm, creating a system where everyone can access information about cancer prevention and screening, along with the human aspect of tailored awareness that accommodates diverse lifestyles. The project is currently in the second phase of a three-year plan to establish the groundwork for a program with long-term sustainability.

In its first year, the program focused on developing and testing health education materials. Now, in the second phase, the emphasis is on creating an IT platform for message distribution and the storage of health information, such as the data collected from screenings and other related activities. By 2024, the program aims to expand, reaching a network of barbershops and beauty salons to promote cancer screenings and enhance awareness of prevention and detection.

While changing the narrative around cancer screening in Malaysia is a challenge for all stakeholders involved in the BEAUTY & Health program—with access, awareness, and even political instability posing significant obstacles—the team is making tangible progress, and the initial feedback on our BEAUTY & Health education materials series has been very positive.


Visit to a local beauty salon in Malaysia
Visit to a local beauty salon in Malaysia


The NCSM team crafted educational videos to promote awareness of eleven types of cancers as part of this initiative, ensuring each topic is prepared in four main languages in Malaysia: Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. Each video features actors and actresses reflecting the cultural background of the target audience. For example, Mandarin videos showcase Chinese actors, while Tamil videos feature individuals from the Indian community. During a presentation of these materials, the team received positive feedback from participants who expressed deep appreciation for health promotion materials that featured individuals sharing their cultural identity.


Building a sustainable future

The BEAUTY & Health program is an excellent example of two organizations with distinct strengths coming together through their shared commitment to leading cancer awareness initiatives. Unlike a strictly academic project, which typically reaches completion after the deliverables are met, the work the team is doing now will provide a springboard for future services and activities. The program is building lasting legacies with the creation of the IT platform (National Cancer Registry) and the BEAUTY & Health education materials, which will continue to grow and disseminate across Malaysia.


"The BEAUTY & Health program has provided Astellas with a valuable platform to actively contribute ideas, offer business perspectives, and foster meaningful discussion and collaboration among all stakeholders. In many ways, the project highlights how cross-country and cross-cultural collaboration can be effective in the fight against cancer.
As a project manager, finding inspiration from passionate project leaders such as Dr. Munisamy and Dr. Kawahara and drawing upon personal experiences with cancer further strengthens the commitment to advocate for early cancer screening and detection."

Click here for more information about Astellas' efforts to improve Access to Health.

* Ministry of Health Malaysia. Malaysia National Cancer Registry Report 2012-2016, 2019, pp.1



Featured Topic:

The BEAUTY & Health program received the "Transformative Approach to Health Prevention in Asia" award at the Asia Business Conclave 2024 in Singapore on January 31, 2024, acknowledging its role in international cancer collaboration across Asia.
Click here for more information.



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