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'Urgent action needed' as cancer rates projected to double in Ireland in the next 25 years

That’s according to a new report published today by the National Cancer Registry.

THE NUMBER OF cancer cases in Ireland may double in the next 25 years if current rates continue into the future, according to the latest statistics from the National Cancer Registry. 

However, there are “grounds for optimism”, it said, because the increase in cancer rates could be a “more modest” 50% if recent trends in some cancers continue.

The National Cancer Registry director Professor Kerri Clough-Gorr said there is no doubt that there will be “substantial increase in numbers of cancers diagnosed in Ireland over the coming decades”.

This latest report from the National Cancer Registry follows on from previous reports in 2006, 2008 and 2014, and it said it is aimed at ensuring the most up to date estimates are in place so government and the health service can plan the future of cancer services in Ireland. 

Responding to the report, the Irish Cancer Society said the facts around the number of people in Ireland who will get cancer are “frightening” but added that there is an opportunity now to “invest in cancer services so that people are diagnosed early, treated quickly and know how to reduce their risk of getting cancer”.

Cancer cases

invasive cancers Predicted increase in cancer rates for men and women

Researchers for the study used six of models to try to estimate how the number of people diagnosed with cancer will increase in the coming decades.

The figures derived from these models ranged between an 27% increase in the number of people with cancer, to a 143% increase by 2045.

Where over 20,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Ireland, this will double to 43,000 by 2045 – according to a model that assumes the average rate of cancer during 2011-2015 apply in future.

Using this model, cases of prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer are set to more than double in the next 25 years to 6,880, 5,450 and 3,810 cases respectively.

The rate of breast cancer would also rise by 63%, from 3,106 cases in 2015 to 5,050 in 2045.

However, other models point to less of an increase when recent trends are taken into account. 

When all the models are taken into account, the mid point – or median – projection is that cancers will increase by 18% for men and 84% for women, which is about a 50% increase overall in the number of people getting cancer.

These models, for example, take into account recent downward trends in breast and cervical cancer rates due to screening programmes such as BreastCheck and CercivalCheck.

A recent decline in the rates of men with prostate cancer may also reflect the high levels of PSA testing from the mid-1990s onward.

If these trends were to persist, the outlook in terms of the number of people diagnosed with cancer is less bleak.

Professor Clough-Gorr said: “But even that more limited increase in projected numbers of cancers will depend on sustained and where possible expanded public health and cancer prevention interventions aimed at reducing the risk of cancer diagnosis at the individual and population level.”

‘A worrying picture’

The Irish Cancer Society responded to the report by demanding urgent action that could save thousands in the years ahead.

CEO Averil Power said: “We are facing a future where one in two of us will get cancer. Although this fact is frightening, we have been given an opportunity to plan and invest in cancer services so that people are diagnosed early, treated quickly and know how to reduce their risk of getting cancer.

Our existing cancer services are buckling under current pressure, the government needs to make investment now to meet the huge surge in demand of the future.

The report highlights the increased demand that will be place on chemotherapy and radiotherapy services in the future, and Power said it is already the case that targets in these areas are not being met. 

“These significant spikes in future demand for cancer treatment are warning signals which government needs to respond to with concrete actions,” she said.

This paints a worrying picture for the cancer patients of the future.

Power concluded by urging a coordinated approach with investment in treatment, diagnostics and prevention so that Ireland takes the most sensible approach to try to avoid the kind of increases in cancer rates suggested in this report.

In 2017, the government published its National Cancer Strategy through to 2026. Minister Simon Harris said that Ireland has made “significant progress” under previous cancer strategies, and the goal of the latest plan was to make further strides on this. 

“The burden of cancer on individuals and on society will grow, unless significant progress is made on improved prevention, early diagnosis and treatment,” he said.

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