What we know about cancer in Hong Kong and how government plans to tackle rising number of cases


  • Common cancers in Hong Kong, contributing factors to developing disease, and plans for prevention and care services explained


Cancer is seen as a growing health threat both locally and internationally. In Hong Kong, the annual number of new cases of the disease is expected to rise by about 30 to 40 per cent in 2030 compared with 2016 figures, according to the Hong Kong Cancer Registry, which collects and analyses data on all cases in the city. Hong Kong saw a record 31,468 new cases diagnosed in 2016, an increase of 3.8 per cent from the previous year. Here is what we know about the No 1 killer in Hong Kong and how the city is tackling the disease.

According to statistics for 2016, the latest available, the top three cancers were colorectal, lung and breast, contributing to almost half of the new cases. Among men, colorectal cancer surpassed lung cancer for the first time as the most common type. For Hong Kong women, breast cancer has been the most common type since 1993.

For 2006-16, the number of newly diagnosed cases of prostate cancer rose 79 per cent while breast cancer cases increased 59 per cent, making them the two types with the largest increase.

The three deadliest cancers were lung, colorectal and liver, accounting for more than half of the 14,209 cancer deaths in 2016.

More men than women were diagnosed with cancer over the past decade. In 2016, there were 104 men for every 100 women among cancer sufferers. But the male-to-female ratio has been narrowing gradually since the mid-1990s.

Dr Wong Kam-hung, director of the registry, said the gender ratio might reverse this year or next. He said the change was because of an ageing population. Some cancers specifically suffered by women, such as breast and cervical cancer, occur mostly in those aged between 45 and 64.

In general, among the 20-59 age group, women were more prone to cancer than men, mainly because of relatively higher rates of gender-specific cancers.

The cancer incidence rate in Hong Kong was 227.4 per 100,000 people in 2016. According to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the estimated rate for 2018 for Singapore was 248.9, 313.5 for South Korea and 248 for Japan. The agency does not have separate cancer data for Hong Kong in its database.

People get cancer when there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a body part. Factors related to the environment, lifestyle, hormones and genes contribute to the development of the disease. Risk factors include overexposure to the sun, long-term contact with chemicals such as asbestos, smoking, heavy drinking, lack of exercise and an increase in some types of hormones.

A person might also have a higher risk if there is a family history of the disease. One’s risk is stronger if more relatives have the same or related types of cancer, and the younger they are when diagnosed.

Some viruses can also lead to cancer. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, causes almost all cases of cervical cancer among women.

The government’s cancer coordinating committee is planning to map out strategies related to cancer prevention and care services for the period between 2020 and 2025. To step up prevention work against cancer, the government has also decided to introduce free HPV vaccines to girls in Primary Five and Six, who are typically aged 10 and 11, starting from the 2019/20 school year.

To help formulate strategies for breast cancer screening in the city, the government has also commissioned the University of Hong Kong to conduct a study to look into risk factors of the disease for local women.

Subsidised colorectal cancer screening, which was first launched as a pilot scheme in September 2016 and became a regular programme in August this year, is targeted at residents aged 50 to 75.