Report says cancer cases could double by 2045

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The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has called for immediate investment in cancer services amid predictions that the number of cancer cases could double by 2045.

A report published today by the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) predicts cancer cases could, in a worst-case scenario, rise by up to 100%, or by a more modest 50%, if recent trends, including falls in some cancers, continue.

A surge of either scale would put extreme pressure on existing cancer services, which the ICS says are already “buckling”.

The ICS points out that the HSE has conceded, in its service plan, that the National Cancer Control Programme allocation for 2019, approximately €95m, “will not enable the service to match referral demands in areas such as radiotherapy, rapid access cancer clinics, and diagnostics”.

Chief executive Averil Power said: “We are already looking at a situation where we can’t meet current demand because of lack of Government funding and resources. This paints a worrying picture for the cancer patients of the future.”

The NCRI report contains preliminary estimates of the future numbers of patients requiring cancer-directed treatment. It shows:

  • Demand for surgery will increase by 8,000 patients a year (up 75%)
  • Demand for radiotherapy will increase by 5,600 patients a year (up 77%)
  • Demand for chemotherapy will increase by 4,700 patients a year (up 68%)

This is at a time “where the surgical and radio-therapy interim targets in the National Cancer Strategy are not being met”, said the ICS.

The NCRI report uses six projection models to predict future cancer cases, with varying results.

For all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), the simplest approach — a “demography-only” model — projects a 111% increase for males and an 80% increase for females between 2015 and 2045, or a doubling of numbers overall to 43,000.

Using the middle point of all models, it again projects almost a doubling of female cases (an 84% increase by 2045), but a much more modest increase for males (18% by 2045) — about a 50% increase overall.

This smaller overall increase is because the more complex models take recent or long-term trends into account. Among those trends are recent downward movements in breast and cervical cancer incidence rates, which the report says “are likely to be in part the result of the national screening programmes, BreastCheck and CervicalCheck”.

NCRI director Professor Kerri Clough-Gorr said there is “no doubt that population growth and ageing will result in substantial increases in numbers of cancers diagnosed in Ireland over the coming decades, with resultant increases in the demands on cancer healthcare services”.

In order to limit that increase, there would need to be “sustained and where possible expanded public health and cancer prevention interventions”.

Prof Clough-Gorr said it is difficult to predict cancer case numbers three decades into the future.

The proportion of the population most likely to be diagnosed with cancer are those aged 65+.

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