20 July 2019
Exposure to carcinogenic substances and radiation in the mainland is believed to be the reason for many childhood cancer cases in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
Exposure to carcinogenic substances and radiation in the mainland is believed to be the reason for many childhood cancer cases in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Cancer cases among children and adolescents up sharply

Hong Kong has seen a sharp rise in cancer cases involving children and adolescents, according to data from the Hospital Authority (HA).

In 2013, there were 234 cancer cases in the city related to people below the age of 19, an increase of 20 percent compared to the previous year.

Specialists say that it would take at least 18 months to stabilize the condition of a child who is hospitalized due to cancer, and that the treatment could cost several million dollars, Sky Post reported.

There were 28,936 new cancer cases in 2013 in Hong Kong. Of those, 234 — or 0.8 percent — involved persons aged below 19, up from 195 cases in the previous year.

As for the number of new cases in the age groups of zero to four and ten to 14, the increases year-on-year were 50 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

The most common of the new cases were leukaemia (28.9 percent), malignant brain tumor (12.7 percent), germ-cell and gonadal cancer (12.2 percent), and lymphoma (11 percent). These four types of cancers constituted nearly two-thirds of all cancers in children and adolescents.

Godfrey Chan Chi-fung of the University of Hong Kong and Dr. Lee Chi-kwong of Prince of Wales Hospital agreed that the increase in the number of Doubly Non-permanent Resident Children (children born locally but whose parents are non-permanent residents of Hong Kong) could have pushed up the number of childhood cancer cases by around ten to 15 percent.

Professor Ellis Hon Kam-lun of Prince of Wales Hospital said a quarter of the cases in the hospital’s Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit are cancer-related, with some of the patients from the mainland.

Environmental factors are seen as a major reason for the cancer, with the young patients exposed to carcinogenic substances and radiation, especially within the Pearl River Delta region, Hon said.

Hon is worried that Hong Kong could fall short in manpower and resources to cope with the increase in cancer cases involving children.

According to the HA’s Hong Kong Cancer Registry, a population-based cancer registry, there were 13,589 deaths caused by cancer in 2012, making up for over 30 percent of the total number of deaths in Hong Kong that year and 253 more than that of the figure in 2012.

Colorectal cancer has reclaimed the top spot in the cancer incidence ranking after being overtaken by lung cancer in 2012. It is the second time colorectal cancer became the most common cancer since 2011.

Gordon Cheung Chi-leung, president-elect of the Hong Kong Dietitians Association, said citizens should consume less processed meat and red meat and instead eat more fruits and vegetables in order to lessen the risk of cancer.

As for the suggestion that cancer patients should avoid intake of sugar and chicken, Cheung said cancer patients would need more energy and calories after they are diagnosed with the disease and begin treatment.

Lack of sugar and carbohydrates could speed up weight loss and impair the effectiveness of electrotherapies and chemotherapies, he said.

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