Colorectal cancer will be the No1 cause of cancer deaths in Hong Kong within five years as dietary habits become increasingly westernised, academics at Chinese University warned yesterday.
The warning came as medical experts from 14 regions including Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan and the United States attended the Asia Pacific Consensus Meeting on Colorectal Cancer Screening in the city.
Francis Chan Ka-leung, of the university's medicine and therapeutics department, said: 'Colorectal cancer only ranked fifth or sixth as the cause of cancer deaths in Hong Kong in the 1990s, but now it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, surpassing both breast and liver cancer in incidence.
'Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in mortality, and it will be top of the list within five years if the mortality of colorectal cancer continues to increase.'
Dr Chan said Hong Kong had the second-highest number of colorectal cancer cases in Asia, following Japan.
Experts at the meeting blamed westernised dietary habits, obesity and smoking for the increase in cases of the disease.
Yasushi Sano, director of the Sano Hospital Gastrointestinal Centre in Japan, said high alcohol intake also contributed to rising deaths from colorectal cancer in Japan.
'The westernised dietary habits and ageing population of Japan are also causes,' he said.
Gastroenterology professor Wu Kai-chun, from the Fourth Military Medical University, also agreed a westernised diet was a major reason for the disease on some parts of the mainland.
He said: 'More colorectal cancer cases are reported in the more developed parts of China such as Shanghai - where people have a modern lifestyle and more often have westernised dietary habits when compared with those in the western part of China, which is less developed, and the number of reported cases there is much lower.'
To combat the trend, Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, director of the Institute of Digestive Disease at Chinese University's medicine faculty, urged people nearing 50, especially men - who had more chance of developing colorectal cancer - to have screening tests.
'Data and experience from most countries show that men who are aged 50 or above are a high-risk group, so we recommend they have screening tests for prevention,' Professor Sung said.
'They should do it even if they do not have any symptoms. A small polyp might have already developed inside their bodies even if they feel healthy, and this tiny polyp might develop into colorectal cancer if it is not discovered and removed.'
Professor Sung cited experience in the United States where resources were poured into educating the public about the importance of having screening tests.
'They are seeing the impact of that now. The mortality rate from colorectal cancer has declined in two consecutive years, as more people have become aware of the issue.'
Approximate number of new colorectal cancer cases each year: 3,500