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Progress on cancer survival at risk due to Covid-19 disruption, Irish Cancer Society warns

The National Cancer Registry Ireland 2021 report was published today.

Image: Shutterstock/Andrei_R

IMPROVED CANCER SURVIVAL figures revealed today are being put at serious risk by pandemic-related disruption, the Irish Cancer Society has said. 

The National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI) 2021 annual report outlines that there is a five-year net survival averaging at 65% for patients diagnosed with cancer between 2014 and 2018. This marks a substantial increase from 20 years previous when the average was just 42%. 

The report presents statistics for the years up to 2019. 

The number of cancer survivors living through or after cancer treatment is continuing to increase year on year, according to the report. At the end of 2019, there were nearly 200,000 patients living after a cancer diagnosis. 

The report confirmed that mortality rates are falling for the four most common cancers – prostate, breast, lung and colorectal – or stabilising for lung cancer in females.

Incidents rates are also falling for both lung and colorectal cancers, in both sexes.

The NCRI has said earlier detection, including through screening, and better treatments are most likely contributing to the fall in cancer mortality while the sustains efforts of those involved in primary cancer prevention, in particular tobacco control, are key factors in the reduction of cancer incidence rates. 

In the report, NCRI director Professor Deirdre warned that the Covid-19 crisis, particularly the first wave in spring 2020, meant that patients postponed doctors’ visits, screening programmes were paused and acute services were reconfigured to reduce footfall in hospitals. 

“There are clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years,” Professor Murray said.

The Irish Cancer Society has today warned that the improved cancer survival figures revealed today are being put at serious risk by pandemic-related disruption. 

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“While it is heartening to hear that progress is being made for devastating cancers like breast, lung and prostate according to latest figures up to 2019, we are very worried that significantly less cancers were diagnosed last year,” Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power said. 

“This will present a major challenge for years to come, and is unfortunately no surprise as already struggling cancer services have been stretched to breaking point during the pandemic. Lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to vital diagnostic and screening services are now all too commonplace,” Power said. 

“Patients are telling us that they are terrified of having their treatment delayed given the current spike in Covid case numbers and are very distressed about the worrying consequences to their health from catching the virus, and the further risk of treatment delays that this would bring.

Power said the Society is “particularly concerned about recent surgery cancellations as the ‘non-urgent’ cases of today will only become more serious and difficult to treat the longer they are left, not to mention the mental anguish this causes for patients”.

“The NCRI report shows that as many as one in eight cancers that were predicted to be diagnosed in 2020 were not. Although there has been an encouraging trend of people seeking medical help so far this year, waiting times for diagnostic tests remain too long and these must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Power added. 

“We would plead with anyone with a cancer concern or symptom to talk to their doctor to call our freephone 1800 200 700 support line without delay, as we do not want potentially treatable cancers to go too far,” she said. 

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