The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about cancer in Japan.
Question: Why has Japan been called a major cancer country?
Answer: Cancer is the top cause of death in Japan, and has been so since 1981. In 2014, about 370,000 people died from cancer. In 2015, an estimated 980,000 people were newly diagnosed as having cancer, and the figures are increasing. The number of deaths has roughly doubled from 1985. With one in two people coming down with cancer and one in three dying from it in Japan, it can be described as a "national affliction."
Q: What's the situation in other parts of the world?
A: Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2008 showed that Japanese males had a higher death rate from cancer for every 100,000 people than the United States and other countries in Europe. For women, however, Germany and Britain had higher rates than Japan.
Q: Why is cancer so common in Japan?
A: Generally, the older people become, the easier it is for them to get cancer. The fact that cancer cases are increasing in Japan, which has an aging population, comes as no surprise. Aging of the population is expected to increase in the future, and it's predicted that in about 30 years, Japan will turn into a society with many more cancer deaths than it faces now.
Q: Can't cancer be cured?
A: Previously there was a strong impression that cancer was an incurable disease, but with the early detection of cancer and advances in medical treatment, the survival rate for all cancer cases five years after diagnosis is now about 60 percent. There are many active people in society who have gone through having cancer.
Q: It would be good, though, if we could reduce the number of people who come down with and die from cancer, wouldn't it?
A: The government has already formulated a basic plan on cancer countermeasures, and is making various efforts. Under the current plan, it has set a goal of reducing the number of cancer cases by 20 percent compared to the level in fiscal 2007 over a period of 10 years, excluding increases attributable to the population aging. It is predicted, however, that this target will be difficult to achieve. There are calls to accelerate cancer screening, support that enables people to work while being treated, and smoking countermeasures. (Answers by Takayo Hosokawa, Medical Welfare News Department)