Taiwan has 15th highest lung cancer rate in world

Taiwan has 2nd highest incidence of lung cancer in Asia behind only N. Korea

Man wears a surgical mask on a polluted day in Kaohsiung.

Man wears a surgical mask on a polluted day in Kaohsiung. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has the 15th highest incidence of lung cancer in the world and second-highest in Asia, trailing only North Korea, according to the Formosa Cancer Foundation.

To coincide with Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the foundation's deputy chief executive Tsai Li-chuan (蔡麗娟) on Tuesday (Nov. 26) said that the average incidence of lung cancer in the world is 22.5 per 100,000 people, reported ETtoday. However, Taiwan's incidence of the deadly disease is 36 per 100,000, closely chasing North Korea, which has an incidence of 36.2 per 100,000.

The incidence among women in Taiwan is even worse — the eighth highest in the world. Tsai said that when it comes to the top 10 causes of cancer deaths in Taiwan, the death rate from lung cancer has been the highest since 2004 and the top killer of women since 1986, reported Storm Media.

Chen Yuh-min (陳育民), president of the Taiwan Lung Cancer Society and head of the division of general chest medicine at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said in 2018 that the number of lung cancer deaths had reached a record high. In addition, the average age of those being diagnosed with the disease dropped from 72 to 68 for men and 68 to 65 for women, reported CNA.

Because the early symptoms of lung cancer are not always obvious, more than half of all cases are confirmed at an advanced stage of the disease. Over 90 percent of the cases are small-cell carcinoma, said Chen.

In the U.S. and Europe, nearly 85 percent of lung cancer patients are smokers. However, in Taiwan, nearly half of those diagnosed have never smoked.

Experts believe that air pollution and cooking oil fumes are major contributors to lung cancer in Taiwan. Researchers postulate that contributing factors could also include family history and second- and third-hand smoke.

Kuo Yu-liang (郭育良), head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the main domestic sources of air pollution in Taiwan are traffic emissions, industrial emissions, coal burning, steelmaking, and suspended road dust. He emphasized that the most hazardous pollutants affecting one's health are PM2.5, followed by ozone and nitrogen oxide.

Director of the Lung Tumor and Endoscopy Department at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kuo Chih-hsi (郭志熙), said that patients with advanced non-small cell cancer can take targeted drugs. Although there has often been a problem with drug resistance and brain metastasis, the third generation of ALK inhibitors has been approved in Taiwan, reported ETtoday.

Kuo added that ROS1 inhibitors have also received approval for coverage by Taiwan's National Health Insurance, saving patients NT$1.8 million (US$59,000) per year. Doctors suggest that in the case of a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer, it is advisable to run a genetic test on the cancer cells to see if targeted medications are available.