With deaths caused by mouth cancer among Taiwanese men moving from ninth place in 2002 to fifth place last year in the nation's cause-of-death charts, betel-nut chewing -- which has long been linked with mouth cancer -- has become a matter of concern in Taiwan.
Officials from the Taipei City Government's Department of Health yesterday discussed the dangers of betel-nut chewing, and announced an initiative to set up medical stands in Taipei to check for symptoms of mouth cancer free of charge, in view of the anti-betel-nut campaign month this month.
"If you chew beetle nut, smoke or drink, you must take time out to check the condition of your mouth," said Lee Chieh-fang (李玠芳), deputy director of the health promotion department in the Department of Health.
Lee said the probability of beetle nut chewers and smokers getting mouth cancer compared to the rest of the population are 28 and 18 times higher, respectively.
Those who do both, are 89 times more likely to get mouth cancer whilst those who smoke, drink and chew betel nut are 123 times more likely to get mouth cancer.
"In Taiwan, 90 percent of those who have mouth cancer have at some point in their lives been chewing betel nut," Lee said.
He said, however, that with early diagnosis and treatment, 80 percent of those with mouth cancer can survive for five years after onset of the disease.
"The importance of early diagnosis and early treatment cannot be stressed enough," Lee said.
A mouth-cancer patient surnamed Liang, who offered to share his experiences, said, "I had been chewing betel nut for over 35 years by the time I was diagnosed with mouth cancer. Although I had had a tumor in my mouth for some time, it didn't bother me since it didn't hurt. But when I finally went for a check-up and the doctor told me it was a malignant tumor, I couldn't stop myself crying."
Liang said that in the hospital ward where he was treated, eight out of 10 patients with mouth cancer used to chew betel nut. Liang himself used to be a drinker, too, and now still smokes.
Advising people to quit beetle-nut chewing, Liang said, "Although you may not worry about it now, once you get diagnosed with mouth cancer, it will be too late to stop the damage."
With betel-nut chewing common among the nation's taxi drivers, medical stands have been set up at two taxi stops along Chung-shan N Road, Section 3 (under the Chienguo N Road viaduct), to check drivers' mucous membranes for cancer symptoms.
Check-ups will be performed from 11am to 3pm, Mondays to Fridays, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 16.