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China’s Growing Cancer Rate Is Becoming Big Business

Increasing rates of cancer throughout much of China have led to increased demand for treatment centers and expert consultation, and with it foreign medical groups and multinationals alike eager to “get in early” and fill this need.

Several reports show that overall cancer rates in the country have doubled within the last 20 years. And while this is nationwide, the mining towns of China’s “coal belt”—an area stretching loosely from northeast China through several central provinces and out west as far as Xinjiang Province—seem to be the hardest hit. Each year in these regions a huge percentage of the deaths are directly related to cancer, with lung cancer being the most common.

The causes of this countrywide increase appear to be attributable mainly to the country’s large percentage of elderly and to its ever worsening pollution, the result of nonstop development which rages on—despite the overall economic slowdown—throughout much of the Middle Kingdom.

On top of this, there is a great need for more oncologists and other medical specialists, along with caregivers. China’s one-child policy, over the course of 35 years, is behind much of this lack. And it is one that will become more pronounced over the coming years.

Even with the big news in late October announcing China’s scrapping of the one-child policy, many women in their late 20s and 30s are no doubt thinking twice about having another child. This is particularly true for those working full time in companies where, one-child policy aside, standard policy often aggressively discourages women from becoming pregnant.

Enter the big medical groups. China-based Concord Medical Services Holdings Limited is set to open a cancer radiotherapy center in Datong, a city that is infamous for having some of the worst coal pollution in China. While Concord Medical Services previously functioned mostly as a distributer of radiotherapy equipment to state-run hospitals, the company is now planning on establishing its own hospitals throughout the country. In part, this will be accomplished by partnering with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, a facility known for providing some of the most advanced treatments available.

Other prominent foreign hospital groups, such as the Mayo Clinic and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, are assessing opportunities as well. Spencer Koerner, Cedar-Sinai’s head of global collaborations, is actively discussing partnerships with a handful of Chinese medical centers. Koerner says,“There are going to be a very large number of patients in China and I see a great potential for Cedars-Sinai to greatly improve outcomes and save lives as well.”

In regard to consultation services on the ground, the Mayo Clinic currently provides assistance in this area to at least one healthcare company, and there is talk of a permanent referral office in China in the near future. Numerous other smaller medical groups are following in the same footsteps.

Catering to the overall need for the latest specialized medical equipment, companies such as General Electric are making a push to market their innovations in cancer detection and treatment equipment. A notable example being their “Brivo” line of portable diagnostic imaging units, which have already proved a success used in countless healthcare facilities in China’s more rural areas.

Glancing briefly at healthcare industry numbers, cancer treatment alone has a current market size of approximately US$10.5 billion in China. This amount has been growing rapidly with each passing year. In addition to cross border partnerships, several Chinese-based R&D centers are active in coming up with new cancer medications, while big pharma companies have over the years recorded huge sales figures of cancer drugs.

With this increase in early diagnosis and availability of treatment, a noticeable reversing of this trend in cancer rates will ideally begin to take shape. But with coal remaining the dominant source of energy for China—and relatively hollow government efforts to curb overall pollution—these rates seem only more likely to continue to rise.

H/T: Bloomberg