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The government said Friday it will establish a nationwide network of hospitals to treat cancer as a step toward upgrading the nation’s medical infrastructure.

Currently, 30 percent of Japan’s roughly 1 million deaths a year are caused by cancer. Unless effective measures are taken, it is believed the number will grow to 450,000 by 2020.

Government officials said the plan is part of the third phase of a 10-year integrated strategy against cancer that the Cabinet endorsed at a meeting Friday to launch in fiscal 2004.

The strategy is aimed at sharply decreasing the incidence and death rate of cancer. The government wants to make advanced levels of treatment available everywhere.

It aims to establish within the next several years at least one local-level cancer hospital in a secondary medical care zone, where routine medical checkups can be performed. There are 364 such zones.

The first comprehensive anticancer strategy started in fiscal 1984 and has since been reviewed every 10 years.

During that period, the mortality rate for cancer of the uterus and stomach fell, but breast and large intestine cancers increased. Factors such as diet were blamed.

The 10-year strategy also features the promotion of international research aimed at using findings from life sciences in practical applications for disease prevention and treatment.

As part of efforts to prevent cancer, experts will try to probe the links between diet, environment and cancer risk.

The government is also considering developing an effective support program to help people quit smoking.