Nine out of 10 people with oral cancer in Taiwan chew betel nut, the Bureau of Health Promotion said on Tuesday, adding that it would focus awareness efforts on drivers, an occupation in which a high percentage of workers have oral cancer.
Using statistics provided by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the bureau said construction workers, drivers and fishermen topped the list of occupations at risk of contracting oral cancer and that the main cause was chewing betel nut.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists betel nut as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans, the bureau said.
The Department of Health’s statistics of cancer rates in 2008 and the death rate in 2010 showed that oral cancer ranked fourth among the 10 leading causes of cancer mortality among men in Taiwan, and that about 6,000 people were diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
According to a health survey in 2009, 23.9 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 39 who chew betel nut had only graduated from senior-high school, while 46.1 percent only had junior-high school education, the bureau said, adding that the data indicated that the health problems related to chewing betel nut mainly affected laborers in Taiwan.
The bureau also said many drivers chew betel nut to refresh their minds when driving long distances.
Bureau Director-General Chiou Shu-ti (邱淑媞) said her bureau would initiate promotional projects beginning with drivers as well as working with shipping companies to create a betel nut-free working environment.
Chiou said cooperation with two major shipping companies in the country have already showed positive results — the percentage of drivers at one company who chewed betel nut had dropped from 24.3 percent in 2007 to 7.97 percent last year.