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Cancer Rates Expected to Soar in Asia

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Continuing cultural and dietary homogenization in Asia has taken a severe toll on the overall health of the area, experts say, replacing infectious disease with skyrocketing cancer rates in the area, especially among the Chinese.

In the past year alone, China has seen a severe spike in cancer rates, associated with chemically-altered popular fast food dietary practices and increasing smoking habits—a combination that has proven deadly. China is now home to about one-fifth of the world’s new cases (Associated Press).

Public health officials estimate that if current trends continue, cancer rates across Asia could soar to 60% by 2020.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stomach cancer was the most deadly form of the disease for both Chinese men and women in 2006, followed by lung and liver cancers, and for women, breast and cervical cancer.

In celebration of “World No Tobacco Day,” Beijing issued its first study on tobacco habits, which revealed that the number of smokers in China now exceeds 350 million people—the highest in the world.

While other nations and governments, including the United States and the European Union, have been trying to combat the negative effects of smoking and develop healthy alternatives to help people quit, the Chinese have been “puffing away.”

According to WHO statistics…

  • Almost as many women in China died from second-hand smoke exposure as did from smoking.

  • An estimated 48,400 women in China died from lung cancer and heart disease attributed to passive smoking, compared with 47,300 lung cancer and heart disease deaths from “active” smoking.

  • Over half of all men in Western Pacific nations—including Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Cambodia and Japan—smoke.

Even pollution has played a part in Asia’s rising cancer rates. Industrialization has caused what were once peaceful villages with pristine rivers to become cesspools of chemical waste, with many rural Asians developing rare forms of cancer.

One example is Vietnam, where citizens are still struggling with the effects of Agent Orange, a chemical used by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Statistics from the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin estimate that of the three million people that were exposed to the chemical, one million still suffer from cancer or birth defects.

Adding to skyrocketing cancer rates in Asia is the lack of proper diagnosis and treatment. Even though various forms of liver cancer are caused by the Hepatitis B virus—which can be treated, and the vaccine is available and widely used for school-aged children in Western countries—it is not yet accessible for a great majority of Asians.

Equally, poor eating and exercise habits due to an increased pace of life and city dwelling influenced by Western culture have caused the cancer rates to soar, according to experts—warning that perhaps the best thing for Asians to do is abandon Western practices and return to traditional foods and societal norms.

Even in Japan, known for its meticulously healthy meals of fish and rice, fast food chains typically dominate business districts. Last year, the nation’s Ministry of Health estimated that more than half of Japanese men and about one in five women—as many as 20 million people—were susceptible to conditions associated with obesity, diabetes and heart disease due to poor lifestyle choices, including eating habits.

A recent study by The Shanghai Cancer Institute showed that the incidence of various types of cancer in Shanghai demonstrated that 80% of cases were tied to patients’ lifestyles. Statistics by cancer therapy experts such as Dr. Qin Xinyu from the city’s Zhongshan Hospital also support this conclusion...

“Because of high calorie and protein diets and a lack of physical exercises, colorectal cancer has become the second most fatal cancer in Shanghai, the same as Western countries,” Dr. Qin said. “Its incidence rate has been increasing by 4.2% annually in the city, doubling the speed of the rest of the world” (Shanghai Daily).


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