Action welcome in Hong Kong breast cancer battle
Group is right to push for city-specific screening programme that could lead to early detection and treatment and an increased survival rate
There remains a division of opinion among experts and officials about the merits of population-wide breast cancer screening in an Asian society such as Hong Kong.
Meanwhile the most common form of cancer among women in the city continues to strike thousands of victims and take hundreds of lives each year – 702 in 2016 compared with 637 in 2015.
So it is good that the government has commissioned the first local study on breast cancer risks to help determine whether women should have access to universal screening by mammography.
The incidence of breast cancer is rising in Hong Kong but, according to a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau, there are still important gaps in evidence to support universal screening strategies for non-Western women. He said there was need to identify local risk factors and develop a screening model for asymptomatic women or those assessed as being at average risk.
In fact experts around the world are divided on the benefits of more screenings and the ideal age for them. Concerns include the risk of wrong diagnosis, unnecessary anxiety and financial pressure.
Against that some local experts cited reduced cancer mortality rates of 23 to 31 per cent in many countries. Dr Sharon Chan Wing-wai, clinical director of Kowloon East cluster breast centre, said while a recent Taiwanese study had its limitations, its finding that universal screenings every two years could cut mortality rates by 41 per cent did show the benefits in an Asian locality. American Cancer Society guidelines call for women aged 45 to 54 to have a mammogram every year, and for those over 55 to go for check-ups every two years. But Chan said the government’s view that the situation in Hong Kong was different prevailed.
The local study, by a team under Professor Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health, will develop a risk prediction model specifically for the city. Western screening models and risk profiles may not be appropriate. The Breast Cancer Foundation is right to push for a Hong Kong-specific screening programme that could lead to early detection and treatment and an increased survival rate.