More young Vietnamese getting cancer: doctors

September 18, 2023 - 14:20
Many patients with liver, lung, breast, colorectal and stomach cancer were diagnosed in their 30s, or even 20s, instead of in their 40s and 50s as before, according to records from two major public hospitals in Hà Nội – National Cancer Hospital (Hospital K) and Bạch Mai Hospital.
Doctors operating on a breast cancer patient. — Photo courtesy of

HÀ NỘI — Many patients with liver, lung, breast, colorectal and stomach cancer were diagnosed in their 30s, or even 20s, instead of in their 40s and 50s as before, according to records from two major public hospitals in Hà Nội – National Cancer Hospital (Hospital K) and Bạch Mai Hospital.

Statistics from Hospital K show that the age of breast cancer cases in Việt Nam is getting younger compared to countries in Europe and North America.

People with the disease are concentrated at the age of 30-34.

The number of patients with colorectal cancer is on the rise. Previously, patients with colorectal cancer were usually aged 50 or older but now, even 12 or 13 year olds are at risk of getting the disease.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lê Văn Quảng, Hospital K’s director, said that the number of patients coming for examination and treatment for cancer increases year by year, especially lung, stomach, breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers.

In recent years, Hospital K has been treating many unmarried patients with breast cancer.

Patient N.A.T., 22, from Nam Định Province is an example.

After being examined and having tests and pre-clinical scans, she was diagnosed by the doctor as having breast cancer. But due to late detection, the tumour had metastasised to the liver, the doctor.

Deputy Minister of Health Prof. Dr. GS.TS Trần Văn Thuấn told Tiền Phong (Vanguard) Newspaper: “The burden of cancer in Việt Nam is estimated to have increased threefold in 30 years and what is worrying now is that cancer patients are tending to be younger.”

“According to the Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) - 2020, in Việt Nam, the cancer incidence rate ranks 90th and the death rate of cancer ranks 50th among 185 countries,” Thuấn said.

There are an estimated 182,563 new cases and 122,690 deaths due to cancer per year.

Statistics from the health sector show that for every 100,000 people, 159 people are newly diagnosed with cancer and 106 people die from cancer every year.

There are currently more than 350,000 Vietnamese people living with cancer, Thuấn said.

A study by Huế Central Hospital on head and neck cancers diagnosed in the period 2010-2020 showed that the proportion of young patients under 40 years old was 11.2 per cent, nearly double the number of 10 years ago.

According to the statistics, lung cancer ranks second in incidence and is the leading cause of death among cancers world-wide.

In Việt Nam, lung cancer is one of the fatal diseases with the highest number of cases and death rate among common cancers in both sexes. GLOBOCAN statistics show that in 2020, in Việt Nam, the incidence of lung cancer ranked second with 26,262 new cases, accounting for 14.4 per cent of all cancer cases and causing 23,797 deaths.

Prof. Dr. Quảng said that in the past, lung cancer was the leading cancer in Việt Nam but in recent years, liver cancer has risen to number one.

However, the absolute number of lung cancer cases has only increased, not decreased, he said.

In particular, there have been many cases of lung cancer in which the patients are quite young. The signs of early lung cancer are very vague. Many people only cough or have mild chest tightness so they ignore the signs or just think it is tuberculosis, the doctor said.

They only go to the doctor when the chest tightness gets worse and they suffer shortness of breath. By that time, lung cancer is usually in stage 3 or 4, he said.

“According to statistics, two-thirds of lung cancer patients examined at Hospital K are in the late stage. The possibility of early-stage treatment (surgery) is not high, but requires radiation and chemotherapy. That is also the reason why the number of patients dying from lung cancer is very high," he said.

Young cancer patients at a collective game night at a hospital in HCM City. — VNA/VNS Photo

Major reasons

Assoc., Prof., Dr. Phạm Cẩm Phương, director of the Nuclear Medicine and Oncology Centre of Hà Nội’s Bạch Mai Hospital, said that many factors may be responsible for the tendency of cancer to rejuvenate, including a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet of less vegetables, and more meat and salt.

In addition, habits of smoking, alcohol drinking and using drugs are also factors causing cancer, Chương said.

According to medical experts, people infected with hepatitis B and C viruses co-infected with HIV, viral hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis are risk factors leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

With early screening and treatment, the number of people infected with and dying from liver cancer and cirrhosis would have not reached such high numbers as today, the doctor said.

In addition, tobacco and alcohol use are two main factors in Việt Nam causing gastrointestinal, respiratory, urinary tract and esophageal cancer, especially in obese people.

Obesity is also the cause of about 20 per cent of cancers such as esophageal, stomach, colorectal, liver, ovarian, pancreatic and breast (post-menopausal) cancers.

“Currently, environmental pollution is also one of the causes of increased cancer rates in young people. And early exposure to cancer-causing agents causes the rate of disease among young people to increase,” Phương said.

The expert advised that the health care sector needs to implement cancer prevention and early detection programmes to reduce the rate of incidence and mortality caused by cancer.

He said that if lung cancer as well as other types of cancer are detected early, treatment effectiveness will be higher.

“In Việt Nam, breast cancer patients who are diagnosed at an early stage have a five-year survival rate of up to 90 per cent, and even the 10-year survival rate is up to 80 per cent,” the deputy minister said. — VNS