The World Cancer Report 2014, recently published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)) warns that globally cancer is growing “at an alarming pace”. According to the report, the number of cancer cases in the Republic may rise by 75 per cent over the next 20 years. Some 30,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Ireland annually. The figure has risen steadily for two principal reasons: earlier and more accurate diagnosis; and our ageing population – as bodies age, our cells are more prone to carcinogenesis.
But it is not all bad news. Most cancers are more survivable now, largely due to improved treatments. The advent of immunisation against certain cancers as well as the ongoing development of anti-cancer drugs are the key to this trend. In 2012 there were 14.1 million new cases worldwide. The most common were: lung (1.8 million cases, 13 per cent of the total), breast (1.7 million, 12 per cent), and large bowel (1.4 million, 9.7 per cent).
While acknowledging many recent treatment advances, the report says “we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem”. It called for “more commitment to prevention and early detection . . . in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.” The report also highlights a growing “cancer divide”, with developing countries disproportionately affected by the increasing numbers of cancers. More than 60 per cent of the world’s total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America – a statistic Irish Aid must take note of when planning Ireland’s overseas aid programme.
Prevention is another key issue. Tobacco control, alcohol consumption and dietary changes have been shown to reduce risk. Physical activity, too, is a powerful preventive agent. Despite budgetary pressures, the Government must ensure resources do not leak from preventive cancer programmes in an effort to fill gaps in acute care.