Better detection and treatments praised for reduction in breast cancer fatalities for first time in four years

The number of fatalities in Ireland linked to breast cancer has decreased for the first time in four years.

Provisional figures show, however, the numbers of people diagnosed with breast cancer diseases is on the rise.

In 2015, 694 people died of malignant neoplasms of the breast, or breast cancer, according to initial figures from the Central Statistics Office.

A total of 692 of those who died were women, while two were men.

About 70 of the deaths took place in Cork county, while 19 occurred in Cork city, according to provisional figures.

A total of 106 deaths were in Dublin.

The areas with the lowest breast cancer mortality rates were Longford and Laois, where seven deaths were recorded in each county last year in relation to breast cancer.

With a total of 694 breast cancer deaths last year, 2015 marked the first year in four years that the numbers of women dying from breast cancer decreased.

Between 2010 and 2014, the number of deaths caused by breast cancer has been increasing.

In 2011, 697 people died of breast cancer and in 2012, 698 people died. For 2013, the figure jumped up to 713, while in 2014, it peaked at 728.

However, the 2015 number is still higher than the number for 2010, in which 659 people died of breast cancer.

Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, said that the overall numbers of cancer, including breast cancer, are increasing, with 40,000 cases expected to be diagnosed this year.

Despite advances in diagnostics and treatment, the number of people diagnosed with cancer is increasing for two main reasons, according to Dr O’Connor: People are living longer — and cancers often occur later in life — and our unhealthy modern lifestyle.

Better detection and treatments praised for reduction in breast cancer fatalities for first time in four years

“We know now that 40% of cancers are preventable but, unfortunately, our lifestyle hasn’t adjusted to that,” said Dr O’Connor. He said a decrease in mortality rates is down to a number of factors.

“Decrease in deaths is down to a collection of things,” said Dr O’Connor. “It’s down to better detection and better sophistication in our delivery of cancer treatment.

“Modern treatments, diagnostics, catching breast cancer earlier are all having an impact on survival.

“If any cancer is caught earlier, the chances of survival are typically better. So all of those things are coming together to give patients a better outcomes.

“If we have good detection, and good treatment services and access to the latest medicines and so on, one might expect that that will translate into better survival and longer survival.”

The decrease in deaths comes as a ground-breaking Irish project into the early detection of breast and prostate cancers received State funding.

Last week, the Irish Cancer Society announced that €2.5m in Government funding is to be put towards finding ways to improve the personalised treatment of breast and prostate cancer patients.

It is hoped that this, in turn, will lead to better survival rates.

William Gallagher and William Watson, both professors at University College Dublin, will receive the Science Foundation Ireland grant for their four-year ‘Opti-Predict’ project.

Currently, doctors do not have an accurate way of knowing whether many cancers will reoccur once the tumour is removed.

The results of the research could allow doctors to recommend patient treatment that is better suited to the needs of the patient, and avoiding more aggressive treatments for low-risk patients.

Better detection and treatments praised for reduction in breast cancer fatalities for first time in four years

Steps to take to reduce cancer risk

There are a number of straightforward steps each of us can take to reduce the risk of cancer. They include:

Get physical:

We should all aim to be moderately physically active for at least 30 minutes each day.

“People aren’t exercising enough – exercise can be a potent method to reduce the risk of cancer,” said Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society.

Quit smoking:

“When it comes to smoking, we’re starting to see in men a reduction in lung cancer rates because males have gotten the message,” said Dr O’Connor.

"There’s always a delay — the lung cancer rates take 10 to 20 years to mimic the actual smoking rates because lung cancer takes 10 to 20 years, sometimes longer, to form.

“Unfortunately, woman haven’t adjusted their lifestyle.”

Even if you aren’t a smoker, reduce exposure to second-hand smoke.

Eat well:

We have all heard it before, but it’s still true: Increasing your consumption of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and pulses, while reducing sugars and bad fats, can help each of us stay healthier and avoid cancer.

Breastfeed your baby:

For women, breastfeeding for prolonged periods of time reduce the risk of breast cancer in later life.

Maintain healthy weight:

“People are taking in too many calories and they’ve often got increasingly obesity issues,” said Dr O’Connor. “Obesity can be a significant driver.”

Avoid alcohol:

Alcohol is linked to a number of cancers, including breast, liver, mouth, throat, oesophagus and large bowel cancer.

Reduce sun exposure:

Dr O’Connor highlighted the fact that sun exposure leads to skin cancer, the most common form of cancer.

“Over 10,000 people this year will get skin cancer,” he said.

Get screened for cancer:

There are breast and cervical cancer screening programmes for women, and bowel screening programmes for both genders.


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