The latest annual report from the National Cancer Registry, Ireland’s premier source of cancer information, suggests that, although the total number of cancers continues to rise, mainly due to the ageing of our growing population, there is some positive news.
For men, the chances of developing (or being diagnosed with) cancer, which had been rising steadily since 1994, may have plateaued. Rates of the top three cancers in men (prostate, colorectal and lung), having adjusted for age, are now declining or static. For women too, the rate of the most common of the more serious cancers, breast cancer, has decreased since 2008, after a long period of increase from 1994.
The report shows that about 37,600 new tumours were registered annually in 2012-2014, of which 30,700 were malignant cancers, or 20,800 cancers excluding non-melanoma cancer of the skin, which is the commonest cancer overall but is rarely fatal. The risk of developing cancer was higher for men than for women, overall and for most cancer types.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Ireland, after diseases of the circulatory system. About 8,700 cancer deaths per year occurred during 2011-2013. Lung cancer was the commonest cause of cancer death, about 21% of the total. The risk of dying of cancer was about 36% higher for men than for women.
Survival from cancer continues to improve. Over four consecutive periods, five-year net survival for all cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) increased incrementally: 1994-1998 (44%), 1999-2003 (51%), 2004-2008 (57%) and 2009-2013 (61%). Ten-year survival figures, published in this report for the same time, show a similar trend.
At the end of 2014 there were 139,526 persons still alive whose cancer had been diagnosed over the previous 21 years (1994-2014), equivalent to 3% of the Irish population. The most numerous cancer survivors were those who had been diagnosed with breast cancer (31,655), prostate cancer (30,642), bowel cancer (17,136) or melanoma of the skin (9,254).
Commenting on the figures, Professor Kerri Clough-Gorr, Director of the Registry and Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at University College Cork, said “Cancer now accounts for over 30% of all deaths in Ireland, and its prevention must be a high public health priority. The incidence trend in male cancers is encouraging, as we no longer see an increase in rates for the three main male cancers. Whether these improvements will be sustained remains to be seen. Cancer rates in women also seem to have plateaued due to a recent decline in breast cancer, but female lung cancer rates continue to rise, and it is now the second most common major cancer in women. There is a large and growing number of cancer survivors in our community which will need to be facilitated by expansion of cancer support services in the coming years”.