TIANJIN - Breast cancer has become the most lethal form of the disease among Chinese women, with city dwellers being hit harder than those in the countryside, medical experts said.
In the past 30 years, the period covered by China's large and rapid urbanization, the incidence of breast cancer increased about 6 per cent annually, which was higher than the global average of 4 per cent, said Zhang Jin, deputy director of the breast cancer center at Tianjin Cancer Institute and Hospital.
"Breast cancer has now become the most prevalent cancer among Chinese women, replacing lung cancer, and that's in line with the international trend," Zhang said at a media event on the weekend to mark the hospital's 150th anniversary and October Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Chinese mainland reports 126,000 new cases of breast cancer and about 37,000 deaths from the disease each year, roughly one-tenth of the world's total, the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health said.
A more Western lifestyle, together with China's opening-up, economic growth and a rising obesity epidemic, are mainly to blame, said Wang Ping, deputy director of the hospital.
For women aged over 35, late childbirth is another major risk factor and experts suggest these women follow a low-fat diet.
Official studies showed that Chinese women aged 45 and above are most susceptible to the disease. This is about 15 years earlier than the average age in most developed countries.
Women younger than 45 account for less than 20 per cent of total patients on the mainland.
Worldwide, some international experts said that the burden of breast cancer was shifting to low-income countries in Asia and Africa as more Westerners have chosen healthier lifestyles.
As Chinese society ages and people live longer, breast cancer will be constantly on the rise, but fortunately it is the least malignant of cancers, Zhang said.
With early detection and treatment, 95 per cent of patients in the early stages of the disease can survive for five years while the figure for late-stage patients is 50 per cent, far higher than for other cancers, experts said.
As a response, based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the ministry launched in 2008 a breast cancer-screening program on the mainland, targeting women aged between 35 and 69.
By 2010, more than 1.8 million had been screened and nearly 900 cases diagnosed, official statistics showed.
Screening methods include mammograms, X-rays of the breast, clinical and self-administered breast examinations, hand checks for lumps and other changes to the breasts, and the B-scan.
Recognized by WHO, mammograms are believed to be the best method at present to spot breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. B-scans usually work for women younger than 35, said Zhang.
"Having regular mammograms helps lower the risk of death from the cancer," she said. "Women older than 45 should have one at least every two years."