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The National Cancer Center said Friday that the number of people in Japan newly diagnosed with cancer in 2020 fell for the first time since it started collecting such data in 2007.

The number dropped 5.9% from the previous year, with a significant drop marked in May 2020, when Japan was under its first coronavirus state of emergency.

Believing that the 2020 result was due to a decrease in cancer screenings, the center is asking citizens to get checked for cancer regularly.

Every year, the center gathers data on the number of patients newly diagnosed with or treated for cancer at designated cancer hospitals and other institutions throughout Japan.

The total number of such patients last year came to 1.04 million at 863 facilities. The figure is believed to cover around 70% of all new cancer cases for the year.

Compared with 2019, when 849 institutions reported 1.10 million patients, the number of new cancer patients fell at 594 facilities last year. The average size of the decrease was 4.6%.

As the number of medical institutions in the survey differs every year, the center examined data from 735 facilities that have been participating since 2016, when the survey was remade into the current form under the cancer registration promotion law.

At the 735 facilities, the number of new cancer patients totaled 967,088 in 2020, down 5.9% from 1,027,749 in 2019 and down 1.4% from the four-year average until 2019.

By month, the number of cancer patients who were registered in May 2020 plunged 22.0% from the four-year average. After rising for a while, the number dropped 10.3% in August that year, when COVID-19 cases increased.

The number of cancer cases discovered through screenings in 2020 fell 12.1% from the four-year average. In May 2020, a drop of 40.3% was recorded.

For the whole of 2020, the number of stomach cancer cases found through screenings dived 24.3%, and that for colorectal cancer dropped 13.4%.

The survey also showed that the number of early-stage cancer cases dropped significantly in the reporting year.

The drop was especially steep in May, with the number of colorectal cancer cases found at an early stage falling by over 30% from the two-year average until 2019.

Ayako Okuyama of the center’s Institute for Cancer Control, which compiled a report on the survey results, said citizens should undergo cancer screenings at the right time and visit a hospital if they have any symptoms.

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