Over 600 lives could be saved in Ireland each year if cancer services were improved, study finds

Cancer survival rates in Ireland low given level of spending, according to Swedish Institute for Health Economics

More than 600 cancer deaths in Ireland could be avoided each year if survival rates here matched those in the best-performing countries in western Europe, according to a new study.

This includes 230 potentially avoidable breast cancer deaths, 129 colon cancer deaths and 99 prostate cancer deaths.

“Ireland appears to be a country where survival rates are comparatively low given the estimated level of health spending on cancer,” the study by the Swedish Institute for Health Economics notes, adding that “there seems to be room to improve patient outcomes with existing resources and thereby increase the added value for each additional euro spent”.

The most successful increase in survival rates has been with multiple myeloma, from 27 per cent in the 1990s to 64 per cent in 2014-18.

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Yet for many other cancers, Ireland lags behind other western European countries for survival rates, the study says. It has, for example, the lowest survival rates for breast and ovarian cancer.

The use of modern cancer medicines in Ireland seemed to be “fairly close” to the EU-15 average, it found.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, which commissioned the study, said Ireland lags behind its European neighbours in access to new medicines.

The number of cancer cases has doubled from about 12,000 a year in 1995 to about 24,000 in 2017-19. This figure is projected to reach 42,000 by 2040. The increase is largely due to demographic factors as the population ages.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times