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Dublin: 2°C Monday 25 January 2021

Irish cancer survival rates jump among wealthy nations - but ovarian cancer remains a concern

The results of a major study of 3.9 million cases of cancer across seven counties were published today.

A consultant analyzing a mammogram. (File)
A consultant analyzing a mammogram. (File)
Image: PA Images

CANCER SURVIVAL RATES have improved in Ireland compared to six other high-income countries in the case of two common cancers, a major new study has found.

The research was published in The Lancet Oncology and looked at the survival rates for 3.9 million cases of cancer in Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and the UK from 1995-2014.

It found there has been “consistent improvements in cancer survival in high-income countries” but that there continues to be differences between the countries.

The study looked at seven different types of cancers and found that in two of them, oesophageal cancer and stomach cancer, Ireland showed the greatest improvement in survival rates.

In the case of oesophageal cancer, survival rates five years after diagnosis improved from 10.9% in 1999 to 21.9% in 2014.

This represented the largest increase across the seven nations involved in the study.

The study found similar in the case of stomach cancer where five-year survival rates improved from 17.3% to 28.4%. The 11.1 percentage point improvement in Ireland was the only instance across the seven countries where a double-digit improvement was recorded.

While Ireland recorded the greatest improvement in two cases, in no cancer type did it have the highest five-year survival rate.

Survival figures for Irish patients during the most recent diagnosis period were second highest for oesophageal cancer, third highest for stomach cancer, fourth highest for pancreatic and lung cancers and sixth highest for colon and rectal cancer.

In the case of ovarian cancer, Ireland had the lowest survival rate after five years at 36%. This compares to Norway’s survival rate of 46.2%.

Australia recorded the greatest survival rates in five of the seven cancers looked while UK had the lowest survival rate in five of the seven cancers.

The authors of the study say that several factors influence patient outcomes, including the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed and timely access to effective treatment.

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Lead author Dr Melina Arnold of the International Agency for Research on Cancer explains that in developed countries the former factor is very significant.

“While cancer survival and prognosis continue to improve across these high-income countries, the disparities we see are likely due to stage of the disease at diagnosis, the time it takes to get effective treatment and the effect of other concomitant health conditions,” Arnold says.

The improvements in cancer survival observed are likely a direct consequence of healthcare reforms and technological advances that enable earlier diagnosis, more effective and tailored treatment and better patient management. Improvements in surgical techniques and new guidelines including pre-operative radiotherapy as well as better diagnosis and scanning.

Information for the study comes from various cancer registries across the countries with the authors noting that there may be differences in how countries collect data.

In a briefing note in response to the results, Ireland’s National Cancer Registry said that Ireland was making “good progress” but still had “some way to go to match the best countries for pancreatic and ovarian cancer survival”.

“In terms of overall progress, defined as improving survival at the same time as decreasing incidence and mortality rates, Ireland is positioned quite favourably among the seven countries studied,” the National Cancer Registry said.

“Exceptions to this are the increasing incidence rates of pancreatic cancer and increasing incidence and mortality rates of female lung cancer seen in Ireland, as also seen in a range of countries.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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