Cancer levels will double by 2040, report reveals

The incidence of cancer in Ireland is expected to double by 2040, according to a new report.

The latest projections from the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) show that, with the exception of leukaemia in males, all cancer types are projected to increase.

The incidence of lung cancer is predicted to rise by 136% in females and 52% in males. Cancers of the colon and the rectum are projected to increase by 120% to 130%.

The most rapidly rising cancers in both sexes are expected to be those of the skin — melanoma and non-melanoma.

The report also predicts that cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract — such as the oesophagus and the pancreas — will rise by over 100%. The report found future trends for breast and prostate cancer were difficult to predict.

Director of the NCRI, Dr Harry Comber, said changes in population were the main reason for the predicted increase.

“We are going through two transitions. Life expectancy is increasing so people are living longer. Also there is a big increase in the birth rate in the 1950s and 1960s and that now is percolating through to a higher number of people over 65 and 70 and that’s the age group who largely develop cancer. That would be the main reason for the increases,” he said.

However, the study also stressed that lifestyle factors, along with the expansion of population-based screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer, will also have an impact.

For example, 40% of the total cancer risk in Britain has been attributed to five lifestyle factors — tobacco, diet, overweight/obesity, alcohol, and low physical activity. The attributable risks in Ireland are likely to be similar, stated the report.

Dr Comber stressed that some of these risks, like tobacco, alcohol and obesity rates were on the increase in Ireland and would begin to impact cancer diagnosis rates in the coming decades.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years we have seen an increase in the risk factors for most cancers and those would be an increase in smoking and an increase in obesity and an increase in alcohol intake so, again, it takes 15 or 20 years for the effects of these to become obvious in terms of cancer rates and again, this is what we are going to see over the next 10 to 15 years. But most of the risk factors that affect individuals are the things people can do something about,” he said.

The study pointed out that although treatment numbers will rise in tandem with cancer rates, the changes will “inevitably increase the burden on the cancer services”.

“The coming decades will challenge the Irish cancer services to reduce the burden of cancer and to improve the quality of care, in the face of changing lifestyles and an increasing and more complex cancer burden. These projections, in indicating the likely future burden of cancer in the absence of effective primary prevention, can quantify the benefits and cost savings from effective action to reduce cancer risk,” it said.


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