Cancer survival means new challenges due to complex needs of survivors

Ireland’s success story in getting to grips with cancer is creating challenges because of the complex needs of cancer survivors, an expert group is warning.

The National Cancer Registry, which publishes its annual report today, says that while it is good news that cancer rates are stabilising or falling in many cases, the long-term needs of survivors can not be overlooked.

Some 167,700 people in Ireland are currently living with the impact of cancer — either undergoing treatment, in remission, or completely cleared — a number that represents 3.6% of the entire population.

Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the registry and professor of cancer epidemiology at University College Cork, said that while the upward trend in the number of survivors was to be celebrated, their ongoing care needs were significant.

“It’s fabulous and we have to be really cognisant of the fact that the progress we’re making has basically rendered cancer, in most cases, in the category of a chronic disease,” Prof Clough-Gorr. “But chronic diseases have implications and need attention.

“There are effects that come from cancer treatment — medical effects and often late effects. Also, with people who have had cancer, new cancers become a risk.

“We have to be very attentive to survivorship care and that means surveillance for recurrence of the cancer, prevention and detection of new cancers and monitoring of effects from the therapies.

“You need co-ordination between specialists and that can be complicated, especially because cancer survivors are often old so working with a care plan for the long-term is really important. Also, working to ensure quality of life in the long-term because that affects the overall experience of cancer. Beating the cancer is not the end of the story.”

The most common cancers among survivors are breast (24%), prostate (20%), colorectal (13%), skin melanoma (7%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4%), and lung (3%).

Another major challenge highlighted in the report is the country’s changing demographics. While the general rate of new cancers is stable or falling slightly in many cases, the growing population and the fact that people are living longer and more likely to develop late onset cancer, means the actual numbers of cases detected here is on the rise.

“The problem that really need to be faced is that the actual numbers are increasing because of population growth and aging and that is going to start to really put some pressure on our health care system,” said Prof Clough-Gorr.

“This is going to burden the system as the numbers grow and if the system is not able to handle that then the quality of the patient experience will go down.”

There have been 33,180 new diagnoses of cancer here each year since 2015, of which 22,320 are considered to be the most serious kind. Including all tumours and precancerous growths, the number is 40,570.

Around 8,770 people die from cancer here each year. Lung cancer is the deadliest, accounting for 19% of deaths in women and 23% in men.


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