China's cancer survival rate less than half that of US, new study finds

The five year survival rate of all cancers in China is 30.9 per cent - compared to 66 per cent in the US

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 November, 2014, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 November, 2014, 5:35pm

China has a cancer survival rate less than half that of the United States, according to the first ever nationwide survey on the subject.

The five year survival rate of all cancers in China is 30.9 per cent – compared to the 66 per cent rate in the US, the study revealed.

Researchers analysed nearly 140,000 patients from across the country who were diagnosed with cancer between 2003 and 2005.

Results showed that breast cancer had the highest survival rate, at 73 per cent. Cancers of the stomach and oesophagus, among the most common, had survival rates of just 27.4 per cent and 20.9 per cent respectively.

The survival rate of lung and liver cancer was even lower, at 16.1 per cent and 10.1 per cent respectively. The survival rate for women was generally higher than for men, according to the research.

The study, which began in 2011, was conducted by experts from the National Office for Cancer Prevention and Control and National Central Cancer Registry.

Results were published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Cancer last month.

Rural patients have a survival rate for all cancers as low as 21.8 per cent, half that of their urban counterparts, 39.5 per cent.

In China about 3.12 million people a year – or 8,550 people a day – are diagnosed with cancer, official statistics show. The prevalence of all types of cancer on the mainland was 285.91 cases for every 100,000 people in 2009 – a rate which has doubled over the past two decades. The death rate from cancer was 180.54 per 100,000 people, much higher than in the 1980s, according to a 2012 report.

Dr Chen Wanqing, deputy director of the National Office for Cancer Prevention, said investigation of cancer survival rates, along with studying cancer prevalence and mortality, was an important part of researching the impact of cancer.

“It’s the first nationwide study on cancer survival. We followed each patient and checked their history of visiting hospitals until the end of 2010. It’s a time-consuming job,” he told the South China Morning Post.

“The cancer survival rate is a necessary reference for the authorities to allocate medical resources and is also an indication of the treatment performance of a region.”

Chen said each country has a different pool of cancers, leading to different general cancer survival rate.

“A high proportion of US patients have prostate cancer or breast cancer, both of which have good results after treatment. So the cancer survival rate [of the US] is relatively high,” he said.

But on the mainland, the survival of the patients with these two kinds of diseases is lower because of many of them are at a late stage when they receive treatment.

The bulk of cancer patients in China are afflicted by cancers of the lung, liver, stomach and pancreas. “The survival rates of these four types of cancers are low around the world and scientists haven’t discovered better treatment,” Chen said.

The study suggests the central government should increase investment to improve public health services, especially in rural areas, Chen argued.

“More health education and cancer screening should be carried out, so that patients can be treated at the early stage of their illness,” said Chen.

In addition, rural medical insurance schemes should include more diseases and issue higher reimbursement, so workers such as farmers can afford treatment. Rural doctors should also receive more training on cancer diagnosis and treatment to reduce delays in the treatment of rural patients, he added.