Industrial lifestyle responsible for cancer surge: doctors

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Doctors operate on a woman with breast cancer at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital

Cancer kills 75,000 people every year in Vietnam, and it is the most common disease in Ho Chi Minh City, doctors said.

At a recent conference, doctors from the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital said cancer cases in the city have risen 5.4 percent every year between 2006 and 2010.

A Lao Dong report cited them as saying the hospital alone received around 10 percent more patients every year.

It has received around 20,000 cancer patients this year, with 60 to 70 percent of the cases coming from outside the city. The doctors said they expected the increasing trend to persist in the coming years.

Five leading cancers in men, in the order of appearance, are lung, liver, colorectal, stomach and palate cancers, which account for 58 of all cancer cases among male patients in the city; while 63 percent of female patients suffer from breast, cervical, colorectal, lung or thyroid cancers, doctors said.

Cervical cancer used to be the leading one afflicting women until 2003, they said.

While most cancer patients are in the 40-80 age group, doctors said more young people are being diagnosed with the disease these days. In fact, even newborns can have cancer.

Many children 14 years and younger are being seen with blood cancer, as well as cancerous tumors and growths in the eye, kidney, bone and soft tissues.

In the 15-24 age group, the leading cancer is ovarian cancer among girls while thyroid cancer is dominant in both genders.

Thyroid cancer also topped the list for the 25-34 age group for both sexes. For men in this age group, colorectal and liver cancers are more common while women are more at risk for breast cancer, the doctors said.

Skin cancer is more prevalent in people older than 65 years old.

Lifestyle changes

Other than genetic factors, doctors said changing eating and drinking habits are deciding the risks of getting cancer.

Doctor Dang Huy Quoc Thinh, deputy director of the hospital, said not too long ago, people rarely had cancer because they were poor and mostly had vegetables for meals.

"The current industrial lifestyle has reduced the consumption of vegetables and fruits, and increased the use of fat. This lifestyle is more conducive to cancer," Thinh said in a Tuoi Tre report.

He said lung, liver, and colorectal cancers have been increasing due to the rise in drinking and smoking, more fat and less vegetables in daily diets, as well as the lack of physical activity.

For example, Hepatitis B is currently the main cause of most liver cancer cases, meaning people can protect themselves with vaccinations, but too much drinking or consumption of rotten or fungi-infected foods are other leading causes, he said.

Stomach cancer is mainly caused by the HP virus, but another reason is the habit of eating food that has been preserved for a long time, like pickles and fermented seafood, he said.

The doctor said breast and cervical cancer is more prevalent in provinces than in large cities because women in the cities are better informed of hygiene requirements as well as prenatal and postnatal healthcare.

Many women in provinces are either unaware or unable to afford HPV vaccinations against cervical cancer.

Thinh suggested a moderate lifestyle with less fat, more fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, no tobacco, apart from taking any available vaccinations that can prevent cancers.

Doctor Bui Dieu, vice chairman of the Vietnam Cancer Association that co-organized the conference, also advised regular health examinations to aid early detection, which carried much higher chances of a cure.

Dieu noted that figures from nearly 52,000 medical records at other leading cancer hospitals K Hospital-Vietnam National Cancer Hospital, Hanoi Oncology Hospital, and Bach Mai in the capital city, Vietnam-Czech Friendship Hospital in nearby Hai Phong, and Hue Central Hospital in the central region, show that between 84 and 87 percent of people with liver, lung and stomach cancers only knew and sought treatment at the later stages of the disease.

A survey between October 2011 and April this year on more than 400 patients of breast, cervical, palate, colorectal, skin and prostate cancers at the K Hospital in Hanoi found 79 percent of them were diagnosed and treated for the first time in the third or fourth stages, he said.

It found only 21 percent of the patients sought medical services within six months after they first saw or felt the symptoms.

Low awareness was another issue, the conference heard. As many as 30 percent of the surveyed patients had never heard of cancer and 61 percent did not know that surgeries can help cure the disease in many cases.

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