Air and water pollution combined with widespread use of food additives and pesticides made cancer the top killer in China last year, according to a recent government survey.
Cancer topped the list of the 10 most lethal diseases for urban residents last year, followed by cerebrovascular diseases and heart ailments, according to the survey in 30 cities and 78 counties released by the Ministry of Health.
"The main reason behind the rising number of cancer cases is that pollution of the environment, water and air is getting worse day by day," said Chen Zhizhou, a health expert with the cancer research institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
"Many chemical and industrial enterprises are built along rivers so that they can dump the waste into water easily," Chen said. "Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides also pollute underground water.
"The contaminated water has directly affected soil, crops and food," he added.
Air pollution is a major cause of lung cancers, as harmful granules enter the lungs and cannot be discharged. Large amounts of formaldehyde and its compounds used in house renovations and furniture has been blamed for deterioration in air quality.
In addition, farmers use additives on pigs, poultry and vegetables to make them grow faster.
The survey, the first of its kind in recent years, showed that the death rate from cancer has risen to 19 percent in cities and 23 percent in rural areas.
In rural areas, 92 percent of fatalities were caused by 10 illnesses, the first three being cancer, cerebrovascular diseases and respiratory diseases.
Reports on "cancer villages" have popped up frequently in recent years.
An investigative story by Xinhua last June said a high rate of cancer deaths has become a reality in areas where the environment is heavily polluted.
In Shangba Village of Guangdong Province, for instance, more than 250 people died of cancer from 1987 to 2005; while in Huangmengying Village of Henan Province, more than 114 people died of cancer between 1991 and 2005.
Similar cases were also reported in other provinces, with the usage of heavily-polluted water being the common factor.
(China Daily May 21, 2007)