Publication Details

Wee, J. T. S., Ha, T. C., Loong, S. L. E. & Qian, C. (2010). Is nasopharyngeal cancer really a "Cantonese cancer"?. Chinese journal of cancer, 29 (5), 517-526.


Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is endemic in Southern China, with Guandong province and Hong Kong reporting some of the highest incidences in the world. The journal Science has called it a "Cantonese cancer". We propose that in fact NPC is a cancer that originated in the Bai Yue ("proto Tai Kadai" or "proto Austronesian" or "proto Zhuang") peoples and was transmitted to the Han Chinese in southern China through intermarriage. However, the work by John Ho raised the profile of NPC, and because of the high incidence of NPC in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, NPC became known as a Cantonese cancer. We searched historical articles, articles cited in PubMed, Google, monographs, books and Internet articles relating to genetics of the peoples with high populations of NPC. The migration history of these various peoples was extensively researched, and where possible, their genetic fingerprint identified to corroborate with historical accounts. Genetic and anthropological evidence suggest there are a lot of similarities between the Bai Yue and the aboriginal peoples of Borneo and Northeast India; between Inuit of Greenland, Austronesian Mayalo Polynesians of Southeast Asia and Polynesians of Oceania, suggesting some common ancestry. Genetic studies also suggest the present Cantonese, Minnans and Hakkas are probably an admixture of northern Han and southern Bai Yue. All these populations have a high incidence of NPC. Very early contact between southern Chinese and peoples of East Africa and Arabia can also account for the intermediate incidence of NPC in these regions.