China's Share of Global Cancer Deaths Tops 25 Percent

China’s newest billionaire is Hao Zhenxi, founder of a Zhuhai-based medical equipment manufacturer that specializes in hospital supplies for treating cancerous tumors. The share price of Zhuhai Hokai Medical Instrument, which is traded on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, surged 40 percent in 2013. According to data compiled by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index on Tuesday Feb. 18, Hao and his wife Cai Mengke hold company stock worth more than $1.1 billion.

Across China, almost 10,000 hospitals use Zhuhai’s medical equipment, according to the company’s website. China’s market for medical supplies has grown quickly in recent years as the government expanded health-care budgets and the country’s burden of noninfectious diseases has also grown.

A recent report from the World Health Organization shows an alarming rise in the number of cancer cases diagnosed worldwide, with developing countries particularly hard-hit. “As a consequence of growing and aging populations,” WHO noted in a statement, “developing countries are disproportionately affected.” According to the World Cancer Report 2014, each year 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed globally and 8.2 million people die annually from cancer. China, which is home to roughly a fifth of the world’s population, accounts for 27 percent of global cancer deaths.

Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide. In 2012, more than a third of deaths globally from lung cancer happened in China, which produces 40 percent of the world’s cigarettes and where increasing public concern about toxic urban smog have created a market for home air-pollution filters in large cities such as Beijing. Late last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a campaign to crack down on officials smoking in public, hoping to set a healthier public example. Also last fall, China’s State Council released an ambitious Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control; whether it will have a significant impact remains to be seen.

Liver cancer is less common, but China accounted for just over half of global deaths from liver cancer in 2012. As China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has acknowledged, the countryside is dotted with hundreds of “cancer villages,” where rivers badly polluted by industry poison nearby communities.

Despite growing public health challenges brought by heavy pollution and fast-changing diets and lifestyles, the average lifespan in China rose significantly from 1970 to 2010. According to a 2013 study by the Lancet, a British medical journal, the average life span for men in China rose 12.5 years (to age 72.9) and increased for women by 15.5 years (to age 79) during that period.

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