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Ministry of Health Battles Cancer Scourge

The Ministry of Health plans to crack down on killer malignant tumors over the next seven years, sources revealed on Friday.


Cutting tobacco consumption -- which will hopefully reduce cases of lung cancer -- and extending hepatitis B inoculations among children to prevent liver cancer are the two major ways the ministry hopes to control the menace, which claims around 1.5 million lives annually.


Experts believed that 80 percent of lung cancer could be avoided if the nation cut back on smoking, a move which would slash cancer fatalities by 30 percent.


According to the ministry's recently launched National Cancer Prevention and Control Program (2004-10), steps will also be taken to promote a healthy diet -- crucial in preventing cancer -- and cutting the risks of contracting the deadly condition in the workplace.


More patients will be diagnosed and treated at an early stage, the program says.


Most cancer cases in China are normally diagnosed at a late stage, making the condition difficult to cure and increasing the financial and emotional burdens on patients' families and society, said Sun Yan, an expert with Beijing Cancer Hospital affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.


Cancer has become the biggest killer of urban Chinese people, according to Sun.


Lung, liver, stomach, esophagus, colon/rectum, breast, cervix and nasopharyngeal cancers frequently occur in China, making up more than 80 percent of the total malignant tumor cases.


Ministry of Health data showed that the death rate from malignant tumors grew by 29.42 percent in 20 years from the 1970s to the 1990s. The nation registered some 2 million cancer patients in 2000, with around 1.5 million dying of such illnesses in the same year.


Cancer prevention and treatment has already become a global issue and has drawn the attention of many nations' health authorities, medical researchers and pharmaceutical producers.


Many world famous life science researchers and developers are cooperating with their Chinese counterparts in a bid to find the most effective anti-cancer medicines, said Sun.


For example, Switzerland-based world No 5 pharmaceutical company Novartis AG is working closely with Chinese scientists to develop new cancer medicines.


The company now has 16 cancer treatment projects, with some undergoing clinical tests in China.


The clinical test results were discussed at the first Asia-Pacific Summit on Oncology, sponsored by Novartis, which was held in South China's Hainan Province at the end of last month.


Hundreds of medical professionals attended the event and shared their new findings on cancer research.


The company hoped that such collaboration would be further expanded so that more of their patent anti-cancer drugs can quickly enter China, helping cancer sufferers and earning big profits from the huge market.


Data from the State Food and Drug Administration indicated that the sales of anti-cancer drugs reached US$1.2 billion last year and are expected to reach US$1.7 billion next year.


China is rich in clinical experience, but medical research has lagged behind developed countries due to a lack of funds, said Sun.


However, the Chinese doctors have successfully integrated traditional Chinese medicine with modern medicines in the treatment of cancer and that has shown satisfactory results, said Sun.


One anti-cancer traditional Chinese medicine "Kanglaite," which developed by a traditional medicine research institute in Zhejiang Province, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States for clinical tests there, he said.


Sun, who is also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, called for more support from all sectors to further the integration of traditional and modern medicines in cancer treatment.


He hopes the health authority will tighten up administration to guarantee the healthy development of traditional Chinese medicine.


(China Daily March 6, 2004)

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