A first analysis of time trends in cancer mortality in China at the national level is presented. Using a joinpoint regression model, based on data from a national mortality routine reporting system in China (CHIS), time trends in mortality for 9 major cancers are analyzed. Between 1987 and 1999, the age-standardized mortality rates for all cancers combined declined slightly in rural areas but have increased since 1996 in urban areas. The mortality rates for cancers in oesophagus, stomach, cervix uteri, leukaemia (except for urban males after 1996) and nasopharynx declined, while lung cancer and female breast cancer showed significant increasing trends in both urban and rural areas and for both sexes. Cancers of the colon-rectum and liver had different trends in mortality in urban and rural populations. The trends in age-specific mortality rates suggest some different trends in the younger population, which may presage future overall trends, for example, increasing mortality from cancer of the cervix. The observed trends primarily reflect the dramatic changes in socioeconomic circumstances and lifestyles in China in the last 2 decades. Tobacco smoking remains a major problem, with increases in mortality from lung cancer. The improvements in socioeconomic status, diet and nutrition may be responsible for the declining risk of some cancers (oesophagus, stomach and nasopharynx), while increasing the risk for others (breast and colon-rectum). Screening programs (especially for cervix cancer), and more available and better facilities for cancer therapy, may have helped to reduce mortality for several cancers. The large increases in the absolute number of deaths that resulted from the increasing and aging population are much more important in determining the future cancer burden than any changes due to change in risk, emphasizing the increasing importance of cancer as a health problem in the 21st century in China.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.