The latest annual report from the National Cancer Registry, Ireland’s main source of cancer information, suggests that, although the total number of cancers continues to rise, mainly due to the ageing of our population, there is some positive news. For men, the risk of developing cancer, which had been rising steadily since at least 1994, may now be plateauing. The risk of lung cancer continues to fall for men, due to a long-term fall in the number of men who are smokers, but is still increasing for women.
The report shows that about 37,000 new cancers or other tumours were registered annually in 2011-2013, of which about 30,000 were malignant (potentially fatal). Of this 30,000, 10,000 were non-melanoma cancers of the skin, which is the commonest cancer, but is rarely fatal. The risk of developing cancer was higher for men than for women, overall and for most cancer types. Almost 9,000 cancer deaths occurred in 2012, about the same as the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease. Lung cancer was the commonest cause of cancer death, about 20% of the total. The risk of dying of cancer was over 30% higher for men than for women.
As previously reported, survival from cancer continues to improve. Survival at five years following diagnosis improved from 57% to 61% for bowel cancer patients, from 80% to 82% for breast cancer and from 56% to 62% for cervical cancer, for patients diagnosed in 2008-2012 compared to those diagnosed in 2003-2007.
At the end of 2013 there were approximately 124,000 persons still alive whose cancer had been diagnosed over the previous 20 years (1994-2013). The most numerous cancer survivors were those who had been diagnosed with breast cancer (29,828), prostate cancer (28,432), bowel cancer (16,754) or melanoma of the skin (8,510).
Commenting on the figures, Dr Harry Comber, Interim Director of the National Cancer Registry, said “Cancer now accounts for 30% of all deaths in Ireland, and its prevention must be a high public health priority. The number of cancer cases is still increasing, but there has been no recent increase in cancer risk overall for men, or for the three most common cancers in men. However, the recent fall in female smoking has not yet made any impact on female cancer risk. Cancer risk in women continues to rise, and lung cancer has now overtaken colorectal cancer to become the second most common major cancer in women. The large, and growing, number of cancer survivors in our community will have major implications for cancer support services in the coming years”.