CHINA - More young Chinese women are contracting cervical cancer, with nearly a third of new cases now in women 35 and younger, a top specialist said.
Lang Jinghe, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a gynecologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, revealed the trend at an awareness-raising event on Thursday.
The percentage of women 35 and younger who get the disease was less than 5 per cent in the 1980s, Lang said. Cervical cancer is more likely to be found in women 45 to 55 years old.
China is currently estimated to have 130,000 new cervical-cancer cases each year, accounting for 28 per cent of the world's total. The disease kills up to 30,000 in China annually, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
"China has to act to curb the disease, which in fact can be prevented, treated, cured and even eliminated," he said.
A national cervical cancer screening programme will be launched this year to test 10 million Chinese women annually, he said.
Thomas Wright, professor of pathology and cell biology at New York Presbyterian Hospital at the Columbia University Medical Center, said he appreciates the initiative, citing the US experience.
The pap test screening method, which began there in the 1920s, has helped reduce cervical cancer cases dramatically among US women in the past 40 years, he said.
Cervical cancer starts with a human papillomavirus infection via sex and it usually takes 10 years for the infection to progress to invasive cancer, medical experts said.
Therefore, "we have the time to intervene", Wright said, adding that detecting the precursor is the key to cervical cancer prevention and intervention.
But he also pointed out that medical intervention is necessary only for so-called high-risk infection.
HPV infection is relatively common, and in the US, about 80 per cent of women at a sexually active age contract the virus at some point in their lives, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But many women can clear up the infection on their own and prevent it from becoming cancer, he said.
Wright said there are more than 100 different types of HPV, but only 14 can cause cervical cancer.
HPV 16 and 18 cause more than 70 per cent of cervical cancer globally, including China, he said, citing international studies.
But the current mainstream method of screening actually misses 25 to 50 per cent of cancers and precursor lesions, said Lang, the gynecologist.
He urged women 30 and older to have a screening at least once every three years.
For prevention, Lang referred to HPV vaccines that can protect women against cervical cancer.
The vaccines, by two multinational pharmaceutical companies, are in the registration process with China's top drug authority for approval in the Chinese market, First Financial Daily reported on Thursday.