Screenings of cancer in countryside to get a lift

Updated: Jul 29, 2019 China Daily Print
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Innovative technologies will be deployed to scale up cervical and breast cancer screening services in rural areas, the National Health Commission said.

The commission will support research into medical tools utilizing artificial intelligence and big data technologies to improve precision of early detection programs targeting abnormal cells in the cervix or breast, Mao Qun'an, director of the commission's planning and information department, said recently while talking about a health promotion guideline issued by the State Council earlier this month.

The technical upgrades will help ease the pressure on strained medical resources in the countryside and provide more rural women with access to early screening services, he said.

Early detection programs in rural areas that look for cells in the cervix or breast that might be malignant were initiated in 2009 in China, targeting women aged 35 to 64.

The decade-long efforts have seen over 100 million cervical cancer tests and 30 million tests related to breast cancer completed in the countryside, according to Qin Geng, director of the commission's maternal and child health department.

About 170,000 cases of precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix have been detected, as well as 16,000 cases of abnormal cells in the breast, he added.

"China has already boosted its cancer screening capability by shifting screening and diagnosis methods in the past decade," Qin said.

"For example, we used to purely rely on grassroots healthcare workers to read screening reports and make diagnoses, which were inefficient and tended to be erroneous.

"Nowadays, cloud computing and big data tools have been adopted to increase efficiency and accuracy."

China aims to expand its cervical and breast cancer screening programs targeting rural women to 80 percent of all county-level regions by 2022 and 90 percent by 2030, according to the State Council guideline.

Qin said 21 provincial-level regions have achieved full coverage of such early screening services in the countryside, including some impoverished areas.

"The goal set in the guideline is within reach," he said.

The commission also plans to expand the number of disorders included in its newborn screening program, he said.

The program currently handles 23 common conditions among newborns, and incidence rates for most of them have been declining dramatically in recent years, except for congenital heart disease.

"There are as many as 10,000 forms of disorders among newborns, some of which are extremely rare," Qin said. "As we strive to allow more pregnant women to access screening and diagnosis services before giving birth, assistance efforts targeting children born with birth defects will also be strengthened."

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