Every 8.5 minutes in Taiwan, one person is diagnosed with cancer, a report from the Department of Health unveiled yesterday.
According to the Department's cancer registration report, some 61,000 people were found to have developed cancer in 2001 alone, a rise of 0.04 compared to 2000. For more than two decades, cancer has topped the list of causes of death in Taiwan.
While liver and lung cancer are the most common cancers among men, cervical and breast cancer are the most common among women, the report said.
An alarming trend is that oral and esophageal cancers have shot up among men. Compared to 2000, oral and esophageal cancer has leapt by 29.4 percent and 27.8 percent respectively. Most of these cases, health officials said, can be attributed to lifestyle factors.
"It is impossible to fend off oral and esophageal cancers if people keep on smoking, drinking, and chewing betel nuts," said the bureau's deputy director-general, Chao Kun-yu (趙坤郁).
Chao said that oral cancer has spread from rural towns in central and southern Taiwan to the whole nation. Data on demographics also showed that 20-to-24-year-olds have seen biggest increase in oral cancer.
"Most of the affected young people said they need to chew betel nut to keep them awake during work," Chao said, adding, "betel nut has become part of their life, and chewing it is ingrained in the culture here."
The government has launched a publicity campaign to raise awareness of oral cancer, but addictive betel chewing and lack of willingness to undergo screening tests have undermined official efforts to reduce the spread of the disease.
The bureau also warned that excessive drinking and smoking has lead to a growing number of male patients with esophageal cancer. Some 1151 people were diagnosed with esophageal cancer and only 12 people out of a hundred survive five years after they develop the disease, the report said.
In the case of women, uterine and breast cancers have quickened their pace.
The report also showed that uterine and breast cancers have jumped by 26.8 percent and 23.9 percent respectively.
"Currently, no one knows the exact causes of uterine cancer," Chao said. "All we know is that it is related to certain hormones."
Women who use estrogen without progesterone are at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer, he added.
Although the probability of developing breast cancer rises with age, women who consume food with a high fat content -- such as cheese, butter and milk -- are more liable to getting breast cancer, health officials said.
"The westernized eating habits may contribute to an increase of breast, pancreatic, and bowel cancers in the next few years," Chao said.