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Reported cancer patients surge 'closer to actual number' under new system

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced on Jan. 16 that the number of reported cases of patients newly diagnosed with cancer in 2016 increased to 995,132 under a new system in which the government launched a comprehensive database on all cancer patients across Japan diagnosed in the same year.

The number increased by more than 100,000 compared to the 891,445 cancer patients reported in 2015 when medical institutions were asked to register such information on a voluntary basis under the previous system. The latest result is "closer to the actual numbers of patients," according to the health ministry.

Under the law on the registration of information on cancer that came into force in 2016, all hospitals are required to submit information on their cancer patients while medical clinics are given a choice. Meanwhile, the 2015 figure increased only by 24,037 from the previous year as statistics depended on the will of local medical facilities and prefectural governments under the old system run by the National Cancer Center Japan and other organizations.

Among the patients registered in 2016, 566,575 were men and 428,499 were women, while 58 remain undetermined. In regards to the approximate numbers of patients suffering from cancer in certain body parts, 158,000 developed cancer in the large intestine, 135,000 in the stomach, 125,000 in the lung, 96,000 in the breast and 90,000 in the prostate. Stomach cancer was prevalent among men while the majority of women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

By prefecture, Nagasaki in southern Japan had the highest ratio of patients per 100,000 people, at 454.9, followed by 446.3 in Akita in northern Japan and 436.7 in Kagawa, also in southern Japan. The southernmost prefecture of Okinawa had the lowest ratio, at 356.3, followed by 367.5 in Aichi and 367.6 in Nagano, both prefectures in central Japan.

Director Fumihiko Wakao of the National Cancer Center's Center for Cancer Control and Information Services assumes that the sudden rise in number is due to "newly reported cases of early stage detection like prostate cancer that are being monitored as well as those detected during checkups and removed."

Under the new system, medical institutions will need to report 26 categories of information including the date of diagnosis, place of residence of their cancer patients, as well as how their cancer was found and treatment details. The health ministry plans to use the information for early stage detection, to improve the medical system and for research. At the same time, it will inform prefectural governments and utilize the database to come up with countermeasures for each prefecture.

(Japanese original by Kaori Gomi, Medical Welfare News Department)

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