Cancer in China

In recent years, cancer has become a more salient issue in China. Currently, 1.5 million Chinese die of cancer annually, more than any other disease, and this number is growing fast. Chinese make up one quarter of all cancer sufferers in the world. The country’s population is aging rapidly, and other lifestyle and environmental changes too are contributing heavily to cancer incidence. To deal with this growing disease, the cancer field will need much investment from both the public and private sectors in coming years.

Currently, most cancer treatment in China is still performed by state-run cancer hospitals. These hospitals are overfilled, and the use of bribes and personal connections is commonplace. In general, private hospitals in China tend to concentrate on primary care, not cancer specifically. At the same time, cancer treatment is unaffordable to many lower-income Chinese, with roughly 40% of its estimated 2.5 million annual new sufferers not seeking treatment. The new national health insurance system, which is designed to take contributions from workers, employers, and the government, may eventually increase the number who can obtain treatment.

The Chinese government is also turning its attention to cancer treatment. In one program, it is setting up nationwide breast cancer screening centers to screen over 1 million women over 4-6 years. It is also conducting an anti-smoking campaign. As over 350 million Chinese smoke, and air pollution levels are rising, there were 340,000 deaths from lung cancer in 2005. However, the government’s chief priority in medical funding remains the universal delivery of primary care, rather than cancer treatment.

This situation is creating a wide range of opportunities for foreign medical companies. Roche, for example, predicts its cancer drugs will lead its sales in China over the next five years. Radiological equipment remains relatively scarce outside of major cities. Sales of drugs and devices are just one area of growth in China’s cancer markets. The sheer numbers of cancer sufferers also mean that many subjects are available for pharmaceutical trials, including sufferers of rare forms of cancer. Clinical trials in China are growing very quickly. AstraZeneca recently announced an investment of $100 million on clinical research in China, mostly cancer-related. Other opportunities include an increase in private treatment centers and the training of local professionals in modern treatment methods.