Breast cancer patients in China often opt for removal

By Shan Juan (
Updated: 2010-10-25 17:17
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BEIJING - China faces a rapidly increasing breast cancer rate, and the breast-saving therapy rate among Chinese women is far lower than in many other countries, Chinese health experts said.

In China's developed coastal areas, one out of every 1,000 women has the disease, and it develops sharply at a rate of 3 to 4 percent a year, experts said. In addition, the fatality rate of breast cancer is rising 6.9 percent every year.

Breast-saving therapy and modified radical operation have been applied to patients in developed countries for many years. "In the United States more than 50 percent of the patients choose breast-conservation therapy, and in Singapore the rate can reach some 80 percent," said Yu Chengze, director of general surgery department at Hospital 307 of PLA. "But in China the rate is less than 20 percent due to various kinds of misunderstandings among Chinese women and some doctors."

The removal of the whole breast is considered by some Chinese doctors as requiring more skills, and as a result they suggest extended resection to prove their ability.

Also, many Chinese patients with breast cancer are older and are not well-informed about the disease. They think that with bigger parts removed, their chances of recurrence will also decrease, and they simply choose to remove the whole breast to lower the risk of death.

"More Chinese women should know that breast-saving therapy is as safe as extended resection," said Jiang Zefei, director of breast tumor department at Hospital 307.

"However, in China, many women, especially those who have reached a certain age, are unconvinced and stick to a traditional mindset that if they have been married for many years and children have already grown up, breasts are not important for them anymore," Jiang added.

"I gave up breast conservation because I do not have high expectations for body shape," a patient surnamed Zhou said. "And I can't afford the money for later chemotherapy."

Because women taking breast-saving therapy need to receive chemotherapy after the surgery, the cost also keeps many from choosing this treatment.

Compared with women who have reached a certain age, young women in China have a much stronger desire to keep their breasts. A 35-year-old white-collar patient named Li Jing cried in the arms of her doctor when she heard that she was fit for breast-saving therapy. "The whole-breast-removal thing is beyond imagination for me."

According to breast cancer experts, some Chinese husbands whose wives are breast cancer patients also recommend extended resection. Facing the severity of their wives' breast cancer and the time constraints to help make decisions on a treatment plan, they are likely to become extremely anxious and often choose what they believe to be the safest option.

Moreover, the low rate of early diagnosis also contributes to the low rate of breast conservation. Many factors have hampered early detection, including lack of awareness, financial concern and traditional reasons. "Early diagnosis can promote an efficient and cost-saving treatment, and regular physical examination should be applied to Chinese women to cut breast cancer risk to ensure their health and beauty," Yu said.

In a survey conducted by a healthcare website and an Internet conference organizing committee, only 37 percent of about 1.6 million Chinese people have an annual physical examination.

Cang Wei contributed to this story