Alarming trend seen in breast cancer cases

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2007, 12:00am

The number of breast cancer cases in the city is expected to rise at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent in the next 15 years, with about 60 per 100,000 women developing the killer disease around 2020, a University of Hong Kong study has found.

Nevertheless, researchers said mammography screening was not a cost-effective way to fight the disease, and instead more resources should be spent on cutting waiting times and providing better treatment.

The university's department of community medicine and school of public health carried out two studies on breast cancer in the past two years.

It found that in the past 30 years, the incidence of breast cancer in the city had increased 1.2 per cent annually - from about 33 per 100,000 women in 1976 to 48 per 100,000 in 2004. It estimated the rate would keep going up by 1.1 per cent annually over the next 15 years.

Cumulatively, this represents an increase of 18.3 per cent between 2004 and 2018.

'With a more westernised lifestyle and diet, we can expect that the incidence rate will continue to grow,' Gabriel Leung, a professor in translational public health, said.

'In recent years, the city has found more breast cancer patients aged under 50 because most of them are among the post-war baby boomers with a better and more westernised lifestyle.'

The study found, however, that it would cost more than HK$480,000 for each quality-adjusted life year if there was citywide biennial mammography for women aged 40 to 69, higher than the corresponding cost-effectiveness threshold in the west of approximately HK$390,000.

Quality-adjusted life years are a way of measuring both the quality and the quantity of life lived, as a means of quantifying the benefit of a medical intervention.

'We collectively agree that mammography is not a cost-effective way to fight the disease. If the government has extra resources, we suggest it spend the resources on improving the current treatment of breast cancer patients, such as cutting their waiting time in the public hospitals and providing them with better and new drugs. Or, it should provide free cervical cancer screening or colorectal cancer screening instead,' Dr Leung said.

He added more than 90 per cent of positive diagnoses by mammography were false-positive, which might lead to unnecessary but painful biopsy tests for further diagnosis.

Cancer Fund marketing and communications manager, Irene Cheung Keng-man, agreed that mammography was only one screening method. She urged women to regularly self-examine and consult their doctors to see if they needed breast cancer tests.

Common killer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females in the city

The number of new cases in 2004 2,273

Hospital Authority's Cancer Registry