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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Cases of breast cancer are expected to climb dramatically in China in the years ahead, researchers say, unless women avoid weight gain and limit their alcohol intake -- two leading risk factors for the disease.
Combining the results of a statistical study and data on lifestyle changes in Chinese women, they predicted there would be more than 100 breast cancer cases per 100,000 women aged 55-69 by 2021, compared with the rate of 10-60 per 100,000 cases now.
The study was published this week in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
"The current incidence of breast cancer in China is low compared with the rate in Western countries. But as more Chinese women adopt a Western life style, the rate is expected to climb," the researchers said in a statement.
One of the researchers, Eleni Linos of Stanford University Hospital in the United States, said Chinese women needed to avoid some of the well-established risk factors tied to breast cancer.
"There are several things women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer. Limiting alcohol use, and avoiding weight gain can decrease a woman's risk of breast cancer," Linos wrote in an e-mail reply to questions from Reuters.
"Avoiding hormone replacement therapy may relate to lower breast cancer risk in China, as in other countries. Having children early, rather than later on in life, may play a role."
She said breast cancer screening in combination with other cancer prevention initiatives may be extremely important.
"Our estimates show that such efforts can prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of breast cancer in China over the coming years," Linos said.
Rates of breast cancer in China are now as low as 12.8 in every 100,000 women, but experts believe it will be just a matter of time before the world's most populous country sees an explosion in the number of cases of the disease.
Already, breast cancer is the most common cancer among ethnic Chinese women in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the Chinese city of Shanghai.
The study predicts there would be 2.5 million cases of breast cancer by 2021 among Chinese women who were 35-49 years old in 2001.
"Modest reductions in hormone and alcohol use, and weight maintenance are predicted to prevent approximately 10 percent of these cases," according to the report.
Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Paul Tait