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Posted : 2012-04-04 19:02
Updated : 2012-04-04 19:02

$1.3 bil. spent to treat lung cancer for 5 years

By Lee Hyo-sik

The number of lung cancer patients here has been growing at a steady pace over the years, despite the nationwide effort to discourage Koreans from smoking cigarettes.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Wednesday, the National Health Insurance Corp. spent a total of 1.5 trillion won ($1.33 billion) to treat lung cancer patients over the past five years.

The number of patients reached 55,000 in 2010 across the country, up from 43,000 in 2006. Men accounted for 69.4 percent of the total, and the women the remainder. About 74.1 percent of patients were those aged over 60.

``Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. About 90 percent of patients were smokers,’’ a ministry official said. ``It takes about 20 to 30 years for a smoker to develop lung cancer. Given this, the growing number of patients over the past few years is a result of high smoking rates of up to 70 percent in the 1980s and early 1990s.’’

It projected although the smoking rate has been on a downward curve since the early 1990s, the number of lung cancer patients will continue to go up till 2020.

The number of patients diagnosed with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reached 630,000 in 2010. The state healthcare provider was found to have spent a total of 490 billion won from 2006 to 2010 to treat the illness, the ministry said.

COPD results in a limitation of the flow of air to and from the lungs, causing shortness of breath. It is caused by noxious particles or gas, most commonly from cigarette smoking, which triggers an abnormal inflammatory response in the lungs.

The ministry said patients suffering from Buerger’s disease totaled 4,245 in 2010, up from 3,400 in 2006. It is a recurring progressive inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins of the hands and feet.

The disease is primarily caused by smoking. National Health Insurance spent 15 billion won over a period of five years for the treatment of the disease.

About 48.1 percent of Korean men aged over 19 were found to be smokers in 2010, with 6.1 percent of adult women lighting up.

``More than 44 percent of Korean men over 15 smoke cigarettes, substantially higher than OECD’s average of 27.5 percent. Korea should make more efforts to encourage smokers to kick the habit, as well as discourage adolescents from picking it up,’’ the official said.

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