Rates of breast cancer soar in Southern Asia

New Cancer Council research shows rates of female breast cancer are rapidly increasing in countries that traditionally recorded low rates of the disease, including China, Singapore, Thailand and Japan.

The Cancer Council Queensland and University of Malaya study* found breast cancer mortality was also increasing rapidly in many Southern and South-East Asian countries, in contrast to decreasing mortality rates in Australia and New Zealand.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the greatest increases in female breast cancer cases in the Asia-Pacific were occurring in countries that until recently had very low rates of the disease.

“In Shanghai, Singapore and Thailand rates of female breast cancer increased by three to four per cent per year from the early 1980s to mid-2000s,” Ms Clift said.

“The largest increase was reported in Japan, with rates of female breast cancer increasing by six per cent per year between 1999 and 2008.

“Different patterns were seen in both Australia and New Zealand – incidence rates increased until the mid to late 1990s, but have since stabilised.

“It’s likely that the increases are linked to the adoption of Western lifestyles and changes in diet, physical activity and fertility which have increased the risk of breast cancer in these populations.

“There are also multiple barriers to early detection and optimal treatment for breast cancer patients in less developed countries.”

The study also found breast cancer mortality rates decreasing by around two per cent per year for females in Australia, compared to increases of six per cent per year in Malaysia (between 1997 and 2008) and seven per cent per year in Thailand (between 2000 and 2006).

Figures also show breast cancer incidence rates were much lower for females in Asia, though the gap was decreasing.

“Globally, around one in three women diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 50, compared to about 42 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region, and 47 per cent in South-Eastern Asia.

“The proportion of female breast cancers diagnosed among women under age 50 ranged from 21 per cent in Australia to 55 per cent in South Korea and 58 per cent in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

“More emphasis needs to be placed on cancer prevention strategies and the development of population-based registration systems for the planning and monitoring of cancer control programs in these regions.

“The ultimate goal would be to see the drop in breast cancer mortality rates currently experienced in Australia and New Zealand replicated throughout the Asia-Pacific region in the future.”

Nearly 404,000 cases of female breast cancer are diagnosed in the Asia-Pacific region each year and more than 115,000 women die from the disease.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death for females in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vanuatu, Samoa and the Philippines.

Queenslanders are invited to support Cancer Council’s vital work in women’s cancer research, education and support programs throughout October and on Pink Ribbon Day (October 27) via pinkribbon.com.au.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available on 13 11 20 or cancerqld.org.au.

For more information or interviews, please contact:

Katie Clift, Executive Manager, Media and Spokesperson, Cancer Council Queensland

Ph: (07) 3634 5372 or 0409 001 171​