updated 10/31/2007 6:47:55 PM ET 2007-10-31T22:47:55

An increasing taste for Western-style junk food and unhealthy lifestyles have caused the rate of breast cancer among urban Chinese women to jump sharply over the past decade, a state-run newspaper said Tuesday.

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In China's commercial center of Shanghai, 55 out of every 100,000 women have breast cancer, a 31 percent increase since 1997, the China Daily reported.

About 45 out of every 100,000 women in Beijing have the disease, a 23 percent increase over 10 years.

"Unhealthy lifestyles are mostly to blame for the growing numbers," professor Qiao Youlin of the Cancer Institute and Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences told the newspaper. Poor diets, environmental pollution and increased stress are among the provoking factors, he said.

The report is the latest illustration of how Chinese are increasingly being diagnosed with diseases more common in the developed world, even while the national health care system remains fragile, expensive and out of reach to many Chinese.

Rising affluence has led to more fat and junk food in Chinese diets, which traditionally consisted mainly of vegetables, tofu and grains such as rice. An estimated 60 million Chinese — equal to the population of France — already are obese and rates of high blood pressure and diabetes are climbing.

Earlier research has linked alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy diets — full of fat and salt — to various types of cancer.

China's breakneck economic growth has not only affected the health of city dwellers; state media said Monday that birth defects in newborns have soared in coal mining regions as an apparent result of heavy pollution.

The report did not give figures, but data posted earlier this month on the Web site of the government's National Population and Family Planning Commission said the national rate of birth defects had increased by nearly 50 percent between 2001 and 2006, rising to 145.5 per 10,000 births.

Results from eight main coal mining areas in Shanxi province show levels far higher than the national average, according to a Xinhua News Agency report. Shanxi is one of China's most heavily polluted regions, mainly as a result of heavy mining and use of high-sulfur coal, demand for which is soaring with the rising economy.

Breast cancer is the leading form of the disease attacking women in Asia, followed by cervical cancer. Both can greatly be reduced by screening — such as mammograms and pap smears or the new HPV vaccine that protects against a virus that can cause cervical cancer. However, cost, cultural barriers and lack of awareness have hampered early detection.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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