Cancer is now the leading cause of death in China. Chinese Ministry of Health data implicate cancer in close to a quarter of all deaths countrywide. As is common with many countries as they industrialize, the usual plagues of poverty — infectious diseases and high infant mortality — have given way to diseases more often associated with affluence, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
While this might be expected in China’s richer cities, where bicycles are fast being traded in for cars and meat consumption is climbing, it also holds true in rural areas. In fact, reports from the countryside reveal a dangerous epidemic of “cancer villages” linked to pollution from some of the very industries propelling China’s explosive economy. By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity.
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in China. Deaths from this typically fatal disease have shot up nearly fivefold since the 1970s. In China’s rapidly growing cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, where particulates in the air are often four times higher than in New York City, nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths are from lung cancer.