‘Room for improvement’ on Ireland’s cancer survival rate

The National Cancer Registry of Ireland said a growing and ageing population is driving up the number of cancers being diagnosed
‘Room for improvement’ on Ireland’s cancer survival rate

Prostate cancer and breast cancer are the most common cancers diagnosed in Ireland when non-melanoma skin cancers are excluded. File picure

Survival rates for 14 out of 18 cancers in Ireland compare well with Europe but there is “still room for improvement”, the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) has said.

The registry, which collates cancer rates as well as mortality and survival data, said a growing and ageing population is driving up the number of cancers being diagnosed.

In its 2020 annual report, the NCRI estimates that close to 45,000 cancers were diagnosed every year between 2018 and 2020 based on population data.

The estimates do not take into account the impact of Covid-19 on patients or on the health service, which has led to some concerns that as many as 2,000 cancers may go undiagnosed and untreated this year.

Of the estimated 44,753 cancers diagnosed per annum, half (24,793) are considered to be life-changing diagnoses that are likely to require extensive treatment, with the other half being made up common but non-fatal skin cancers (12,114) or other benign cancers (7,845).

There is now a one-in-two chance of getting a cancer 3diagnosis in your lifetime and the risk is the same for men and women.

Prostate cancer and breast cancer are the most common cancers diagnosed in Ireland when non-melanoma skin cancers are excluded – both account for around one-third of all cancers diagnosed between 2018-2020.

Cancer rates have doubled since the mid-1990s when the NCRI was set up and are forecast to double further by 2045, based on population and demographic projections.

Cancer is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for around 9,000 deaths per annum between 2015 and 2017 or one death for every three cancers diagnosed. Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death among men and women.

'Room for improvement'

The NCRI said five-year survival rates had seen “significant” improvements for most types of cancer, with the number of survivors expected to exceed 200,000 this year.

Ireland also compares well with Europe for survival rates for several cancers although Professor Kerri Clough-Gorr, NCRI Director acknowledged “there is still room for improvement”.

An international study comparing cancer survival rates found that Ireland was in the top half in Europe for cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, lung, skin, prostate, brain, and some blood cancers but did not fare as well when it came to colon, breast, cervical or ovarian cancers.

The Irish Cancer Society said cancer services must be properly resourced to meet an expected doubling of cases in the next 25 years.

Director of Advocacy Rachel Morrogh said improving survival rates for all cancers, in particular, breast and colon cancer was also vital: “It is notable that Ireland’s ranking for breast cancer survival did not improve between 2000 and 2014 and that Ireland was positioned in the bottom half of the survival league table during this period. This is cancer that affects over 3,000 people every year.

“Similarly, no progress was made during the same period regarding Ireland’s survival ranking for colorectal cancer. We need to understand why this was and ensure that we accelerate progress for these and other cancers so that in Ireland, the patients of the future are given the same chance of surviving their cancer as those in other European countries,” she added.

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