BEIRUT: Smoking is the main cause for Lebanon having the highest bladder and breast cancer mortality rates in the world, caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani said Wednesday in response to a recent World Health Organization report.
The report, published in September by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, estimated that Lebanon had the highest incidence of bladder cancer worldwide, at 25 people per 100,000, while about nine people per 100,000 die from it.
Lebanon also had the sixth-highest incidence rate of breast cancer in the world, at 97.6 cases per 100,000, but its mortality rate shot up past all other countries, at 26 per 100,000.
Hasbani told The Daily Star he had worked to tackle the issue during his near two-year tenure at the ministry, by leading an awareness campaign and increasing free mammogram testing for women, measures he said doubled the amount of women taking the tests in a single year.
He also said he had asked the government for an increase to the ministry’s budget, adding that the ministry spent roughly a fifth of its half-billion dollar budget on cancer treatment.
Meanwhile, according to Najat Saliba, a professor of analytical chemistry at the American University of Beirut, pollution of Lebanon's air and water had likely led to the high rates of those two cancers.
“We live in an environment that is not regulated, by any means, and so these results are expected,” Saliba told The Daily Star. She added that the IARC is the “most trusted database for information on cancer.”
Lebanon additionally was reported to have the highest incidence of cancer overall in the Middle East and North Africa region at 242.8 per 100,000 people, followed by Israel at 233.5 and Turkey at 225.1.
An IARC researcher did not immediately respond to a request for comment.