China the hardest hit by global surge in cancer, says WHO report

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 4:36pm

China is bearing the brunt of new cancer cases and deaths amid an alarming global rise in the disease in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation.

The country also registered the most new cancer cases and deaths from four types of malignant tumours - liver, oesophagus, stomach and lung.

The latest edition of the World Cancer Report said developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America were among the hardest hit by cancer. Overall, the world registered 14 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million deaths in 2012.

China accounted for 3.07 million newly diagnosed cases, 21.8 per cent of the global total. It also saw 26.9 per cent of the world's total cancer deaths - about 2.2 million - according to the report.

The figures were slightly lower than China's own statistics for 2012. The National Cancer Registration Centre recorded an estimated 3.5 million new cases and 2.5 million deaths annually, according to mainland media reports.

However, China was still not among the countries with the highest cancer rates in 2012, the top five being Denmark, France, Australia, Belgium and Norway. Nor was it among the countries with the highest mortality rates, which occurred in Mongolia, Hungary, Armenia, Serbia and Uruguay, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The lack of adequate cancer diagnosis, as well as limited medical-treatment capacities in less developed countries had contributed to the problem, the report points out.

Lung cancer remains the most common - and deadliest - cancer in the world, with an estimated 1.8 million new cases and 1.59 million deaths in 2012. More than one-third of such cases occurred in China.

Professor Zhi Xiuyi, director of the Lung Cancer Treatment Centre at Beijing's Capital Medical University, said smoking, long-term exposure to air pollution and occupational exposure to carcinogens were among major factors that increased lung cancer risks.

In other types of cancer, about 50 per cent of new liver and oesophagus cancer cases worldwide were recorded in China. And 51 per cent of global deaths from liver cancer and 49 per cent of global deaths from oesophagus cancer occurred in the country. China also saw more than 40 per cent of global newly diagnosed stomach cancers and related deaths in 2012.

Zhi said these three types - liver, oesophagus and stomach - were the most common cancers for Chinese.

"These figures, though alarming, do not show a completely new trend. And it is urgent to clarify some misunderstandings of cancer among the public, for instance, believing the cancers are incurable diseases," he said.

Such fear had prevented meaningful discussion about the diseases among the public and, as a result, a lack of adequate medical knowledge had led to failure in early detection, Zhi said.

The report also warned countries to take effective preventive measures, as it forecast cancer cases would continue to rise worldwide with a growing and ageing population. It is estimated that new cases will surge by 57 per cent to 22 million within two decades, with annual deaths reaching 13 million a year.

Additional reporting by Angela Meng