Prevention is priority, but nationwide treatment measures also part of effort
A growing number of cancer cases in China as well as a rising mortality rate will be brought under control by 2022, according to a plan released on Monday.
Authorities will intensify efforts to reduce cancer risks, including promoting health knowledge among the public; improving tobacco control; promoting vaccinations among targeted groups of people such as those more prone to hepatitis B infection; intensifying environmental protection efforts; and bolstering protection against occupational diseases, according to the plan, which was released by 10 central government departments including the National Health Commission and the National Development and Reform Commission.
While priority will be placed on prevention, efforts will also be made to promote treatment capacity across China, including building a national prevention and treatment network and helping grassroots medical institutions, according to the three-year plan.
Efforts will be made to improve access to anti-cancer drugs, including accelerating approval of overseas drugs so they can be made available on the Chinese mainland more quickly, promoting the use of generic drugs to replace expensive patent drugs and including more anti-cancer drugs in the basic medical insurance program, it said.
It is expected that by 2022 early diagnosis and standard treatment of cancer in China can be greatly advanced, and the five-year survival rate of cancer patients in general can rise by 3 percentage points compared with 2015, the plan said.
Overall incidences and the mortality rate for cancer have trended upward in China in recent years, due to factors including an aging population, urbanization and popularization of unhealthy lifestyles, according to the health commission. Every year, about 3.8 million people are diagnosed with cancer and about 2.3 million people die from it.
A national health promotion plan released by the State Council in July called for integrated efforts over the next decade on cancer prevention and treatment, including promoting early testing, diagnosis and treatment, expanding cancer screening and promoting standardized diagnosis and treatment. The plan aimed to increase the general five-year survival rate of cancer patients in China to more than 43 percent by 2022 and more than 46 percent by 2030.
Zhao Ping, president of the Cancer Foundation of China, said improving prevention is the key.
"It is very difficult to give effective treatment to patients with late-stage cancer, when tumor cells have spread extensively. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the five-year survival rate of cancer patients," he said. "Compared with the money spent on cancer treatment, the resources we have spent on prevention are woefully inadequate."
Cancer is more likely to recur within five years of surgery. A patient who has lived for five years without recurrence of cancer will face greatly reduced chances of it returning. So the five-year survival rate is used internationally as an important criterion for the effectiveness of cancer treatment, Zhao said.
There is no exact data on the overall five-year survival rate in China, but experts generally estimate the figure to be between 30 and 40 percent, said Zhao, who is also the former president of the Cancer Hospital, under the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing.
According to Hao Jie, a member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, the five-year survival rate of cancer patients in China in general was 40.5 percent in 2015, compared with about 31 percent in 2005.
To improve early diagnosis and treatment of cancer, more research should be undertaken to improve efficiency in cancer screening, Zhao said, adding it is not feasible to test every person.
"In some cancer screening programs carried out by health authorities, fewer than two out of every 100 people were diagnosed with cancer," he said. "More cost-effective methods should be used to screen test more precisely, such as focusing on people who are more likely to get cancer."
In addition, training of doctors in rural areas should be intensified to improve their ability for early diagnosis of cancer and reduce misdiagnosis, which is very important to improving the overall survival rate, Zhao said.