The Health Promotion Administration’s (HPA) cancer screening program detects precancerous lesions in about 49,000 people every year, according to statistics released yesterday by the agency.

The program, which was launched in 2010 to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment, targets colorectal, oral, breast and cervical cancers.

About 5.1 million people take part in the program each year, among whom about 12,000 cases are detected, Cancer Prevention and Control Division Director Lin Li-ju (林莉茹) said.

Of the 5.1 million people who were screened last year, about 2.99 million, or 59 percent, were screened by one of the 219 medication institutions that work with the HPA on a project to improve the quality of cancer prevention and control, she said.

Those institutions detected about 30,000 precancerous lesions and 8,500 cancer cases, or about 64 percent of all cases detected nationwide, she said.

Of the four screening tests offered by the program, the one for cervical cancer has been the most effective, Lin said.

Screenings for cervical and breast cancer can lower the mortality rate for women by 70 percent and 41 percent respectively, she added.

Oral cancer screenings can lower the mortality rate by 26 percent for men who smoke or chew betel nut, while screenings for colorectal cancer can lower the mortality rate by 23 percent, Lin said.

Cancer has been the leading cause of death in Taiwan for 37 years, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Early detection of the four types of cancer has a significant effect on survival, Taiwan Cancer Registry data showed.

The five-year survival rate for stage zero and stage one breast cancer is more than 95 percent, but the figure drops to 30.5 percent if the cancer is detected in the fourth stage, the data showed.

In colorectal cancer cases, the five-year survival rate is 85 percent for early-stage patients and 11 percent for advanced-stage patients, the registry showed.

Patients with early-stage and advanced-stage cervical cancer have five-year survival rates of 93 percent and 21.1 percent respectively, while patients with early-stage and advanced-stage oral cancer have five-year survival rates of 78 percent and 35 percent respectively, the data showed.

Physicians should do their best to safeguard people’s health, while individuals also need to take action to improve their health, such as developing healthier lifestyles, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and getting regular check-ups, HPA Director-General Wang Ying-wei (王英偉) said.