Major Cancer Risk Factors

I. Tobacco Smoking  

Chinese tobacco products account for 1/3 of the world’s total production. China is not only the largest country in the world producing tobacco products, but also the country with the highest consumption.  China has more than 350 million current tobacco smokers and an additional 500 million people exposed to passive smoking everyday.  

II. Air Pollution

The huge increase in energy consumption has resulted in serious air pollution in China.  Almost all cities in China today exceed the WHO and the country’s ambient standards for TSP, NO2, and SO2  China’s roads are estimated to be clogged with 130 million vehicles in 2020. 

III. Water Pollution 

There is serious concern over widespread pollution of rivers, lakes, groundwater, and coastal waters due to untreated industrial discharges. 

IV. Diet 

Chinese diet has undergone drastic change during the past 3 decades.  As shown in Figure 2, meat, egg, fish, and poultry intakes have all increased in the Chinese population.  

V. Other Risk Factors  

45% of men and 5% of women in China regularly drink alcohol, with an average duration of 23 years among the drinkers.  About 60% of adults are considered to be physically inactive. There are also significant occupational exposures, particularly for those working in the small enterprises. Some infections, which have been linked to human cancer risk, are very high in the Chinese population.  For example, it was reported that about 100 million were HBV carriers (who are at increased risk of liver cancer) at one time, and the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori infection (a risk factor for gastric cancer) has reached 68%.

While a comprehensive study of financial loss from cancer treatment in China has not been performed, the health costs alone are one indicator.  Expenditures for cancer treatment in 2006 were estimated to represent 20% of the annual total medical expenses in China. However, in reality, the cost of cancer treatments is several times higher than this number.