Cancer-related issues in Ireland

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – At the launch to highlight the 25th anniversary of the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day (Home News, February 9th), the statement by the National Cancer Control programme director Dr Susan O’Reilly that Ireland’s survival rates for a number of common cancers is “trailing badly” behind many other countries is a deep cause for concern. This comes just days after a report issued on World Cancer Day ( February 4th), which further highlights the serious nature of the problems we face, with the revelation that Ireland now tops a list of 27 European countries for increasing rates of cancer, with a predicted increase of over 70 per cent by 2030. While this probably partially reflects both an overall increase in the Irish population (as identified in the recent population census) and its increasing age, it is a worrying statistic.

The study by the World Cancer Research Fund did not take into account the effects of screening or lifestyle factors, so the introduction of opportunistic screening for diseases such as prostate cancer in Ireland and the development of rapid access clinics (as highlighted in The Irish Times article), has probably contributed to this increase. However, it is clear that cancer is going to be the most common cause of death in Ireland in the next five to 10 years and we really need to respond in a strong and decisive fashion to confront this rapidly approaching epidemic. It is therefore very discouraging to see that the proposed national bowel cancer screening programme has once again been delayed. How much longer must we wait for a procedure that has been part of the standard of cancer care in other countries for years to be offered to Irish people? Other screening programmes have also been curtailed. The emerging problem of adult and particularly childhood obesity (many studies now show a clear link between obesity and cancer) and the continued tolerance of advertising and product placement, particularly by the tobacco industry, must be tackled head on.

While it is admirable to see the Irish Cancer Society’s tough stance on these and other cancer-related issues, national policymakers need to heed the warning signs and respond in a constructive way before it is too late.

The WRCF’s report highlights that the expected increase in cancer in the over-65s in Ireland is greater than 90 per cent, compared to a less than 50 per cent increase in the same age group in Britain. This difference needs to be addressed. However, the recent valuable research that is being performed by the National Cancer Registry in Cork, in close collaboration with the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast, culminating in the publication of the first all-Ireland cancer atlas last December, is an important development and allows the apparent disparity in cancer incidences to be studied in more detail, thus providing the key information that can underpin an overall improvement in cancer services and care in this country.

Let’s hope that both the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive actually listen to the overwhelming evidence and act now. We need to get serious about cancer. – Yours, etc,

Prof MARK LAWLER,

South Circular Road,

Kilmainham,

Dublin 8.