Survival from some cancers now over 90% after five years
Improved access to services linked to big rise in survival rates
Headline figures from the latest report of the National Cancer Registry represent some welcome good news for those affected by the “Big C”.
Cancer survivorship has increased significantly: for men the last 10 years has seen a 50 per cent increase in those surviving a brush with cancer; while for women survival at five years from diagnosis has gone from 52 per cent in the period from 1994-1999 to 62 per cent in 2005-2009. Survival from some cancers – testis, prostate and thyroid – is now over 90 per cent after five years.
There are multiple possible reasons: better prevention through improved lifestyles; earlier and more accurate diagnosis; improved access to the key cancer treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy; and the availability of treatments that did not exist a decade ago. Our health service must take a major part of the credit for this.
Drilling down into the figures reveals interesting trends. Those of us who occupy the lowest socioeconomic groups suffer a much higher rate of both lung cancer and cancer of the cervix. Smoking is a common denominator; this finding may also reflect poorer nutrition.
But there are also “cancers of the rich”, with those in higher socioeconomic groups having a higher prevalence of melanoma skin cancer. Adolescents from higher-income families are more likely to enjoy regular sun holidays abroad. Many of the melanoma cancers enumerated in the latest registry report reflect inappropriate past ultraviolet light exposure.
Other cancers that occur more often in the well-off include prostate and breast tumours – a reflection of diverse factors such as access to screening tests, nutrition and body mass.
Just over a decade ago, a NCRI report found that while 39 per cent of patients nationally received radiotherapy for breast cancer, only 24 per cent of those living under the Western Health Board benefited. A patient who lived in the three western seaboard areas was less likely to get radiotherapy for breast cancer than those in the eastern half of the country. Access to radiotherapy no longer depends on where you live.
Lung cancer greatest killer
Lung cancer, an avoidable disease for most who develop it, is the commonest cause of death from cancer in both sexes. And lung cancer mortality in Irish women is the fourth-highest in Europe.
Cancer risk for all tumour types increases with age; as our population ages the risk of cancer increases, albeit by just 1 per cent a year. However, the risk of dying from cancer continues to fall.
There are now over 100,000 cancer survivors in the Republic. Cancer services are very much focused on diagnosis and initial treatment, and also on palliative services. But cancer survivors deserve to have their diverse needs addressed.