Of this figure, 227 patients have waited more than a year, discrediting the Health Service Executive (HSE) target of no one waiting more than 13 weeks for what can be a vital diagnostic test.
The delays are against a backdrop of the HSE setting strict timelines for access to colonoscopies after the high profile and tragic death in October 2007 of mother- of-two Susie Long.
Ms Long waited seven months for a colonoscopy before being diagnosed in 2006 with terminal bowel cancer. While undergoing chemotherapy, another patient told her he had been diagnosed at the same time.
However, his private health insurance gave him access to a colonoscopy within three days, and his prognosis was far more positive.
The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) said it was “deeply concerned” at the large numbers waiting more than three months, a figure that climbed to 4,235 in October. It emphasised the divide between “those who can pay and those who cannot”.
Head of advocacy Kathleen O’Meara said the HSE was a long way off meeting its target of performing 100% of colonoscopies within 13 weeks.
“Currently, 41% of patients are waiting longer than three months for the cancer test,” she said.
“The tragic reality is that we can expect some colorectal cancers to be diagnosed when the patients on waiting lists eventually receive their colonoscopy.”
At Beaumont Hospital, over 80% of those waiting have done so for longer than three months, while at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, Naas General Hospital, and Tallaght Hospital, the figure exceeds 60%.
Ms O’Meara said the ICS wanted adequate investment to ensure enough radiographers and gastroenterologists, as well as clear guidelines for GPs about when to refer.
The HSE blamed increasing demand for endoscopy services as “the main factor” driving rising waiting lists. This was a result of increased health awareness, more regular check-ups and increased awareness of bowel symptoms.
The National Bowel Screening Programme which targets men and women aged 60-69 was also playing a part, as well as an ageing population and greater demand for colonoscopies, the HSE said.
The HSE said the National Treatment Purchase Fund recently commenced a GI Endoscopy Initiative (which includes colonoscopies) to be completed before the end of the year.
The initiative will target those waiting more than 12 months now or before the end of December 2015. The HSE said of the 2,652 targeted by the NTPF initiative, 2,094 have now been seen (79%).
Separately, new research published in The Lancet Oncology has found huge differences in cancer drug prices between 18 countries.
In 18 out of 22 cancer drugs, the manufacturer’s price per unit was higher in Ireland than the UK, by more than €200 in some cases.
Bevacizumab, used to treat breast, lung, renal and ovarian cancers cost €1,085 in the UK and €1,319 in Ireland.
The survey was carried out in 2013 and found cancer drug prices were low in Greece and high in Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. The difference between the highest priced country and the lowest varied between 28% and 388%.