Cancer now the biggest killer of Irish people, ahead of heart disease

Cases to double in next 30 years as population ages, says National Cancer Registry

More people than ever are living with or after cancer as survival rates have improved over the past 20 years. Photograph: iStock

More people than ever are living with or after cancer as survival rates have improved over the past 20 years. Photograph: iStock

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Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the most common cause of death in Ireland as the population ages, a new report shows.

Invasive cancers and related tumours cause an average of 8,875 deaths a year - the equivalent of one person dying from the disease every hour - according to the annual report of the National Cancer Registry.

However, more people than ever are living with the disease as survival rates for invasive cancers have improved markedly over the past 20 years - from 40 per cent to 62 per cent for men and from 48 per cent to 60 per cent for women.

More than 41,000 new invasive and non-invasive cancers were diagnosed each year over the period 2016-2018. One in five of these were non-invasive tumours and a further one-quarter were non-melanoma skin cancers.

This equates to an average of 112 people being diagnosed with cancer every day.

The total number of cancers diagnosed has increased by 85 per cent since the mid-1990s, due to population growth and ageing.

The report warns cases could double between 2015 and 2045, assuming the population continues to grow and age at current rates.

Wake-up call

The Irish Cancer Society described the forecast as a “wake-up call” requiring immediate action by Government and individual citizens.

“While these projections are stark, they need not become a reality” said chief executive Averil Power. “By improving our lifestyles and availing of free screening each of us can dramatically reduce our risk of getting cancer.

“Four in 10 cancers are preventable. We can all reduce our risk of getting cancer by eating healthily, exercising and limiting our alcohol intake.”

Professor Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the National Cancer Registry, said the project increase may be held to 50 per cent if recent trends in some cancers - for example, declines in male lung and prostate cancer rates - continue.

“This is likely to require a sustained and expanded focus on prevention of cancer, through appropriate interventions and education.”

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common form of the disease, with almost 11,000 cases, followed by prostate cancer, with 3,500 cases. Lung cancer, however, remain the biggest cancer killer of both men and women.

Living with cancer

More people than ever are living with or after cancer as survival rates have improved over the past 20 years, the report shows. A total of 173,000 cancer survivors - 3.7 per cent of the population - were estimated to be alive at the end of 2016.

The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer has improved from 48 per cent to 62 per cent in men and 52 per cent to 63 per cent in women, over the time period 1994-1998 to 2010-2014. Lung cancer survival rates were up from 8 per cent to 16 per cent for men and from 9 per cent to 21 per cent for women.

For female breast cancer, the increase was from 72 per cent to 83 per cent; for prostate cancer from 66 per cent to 92 per cent; and for skin melanoma, from 73 per cent to 84 per cent for men and from 88 per cent to 92 per cent for women.

The report records an average of 287 cases of cervical cancer yearly, and a lifetime risk of a women getting cervical cancer of one in 118. The five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 62 per cent.

Ms Power called on the Government to ensure the cancer prevention recommendations in the National Cancer Strategy are fully implemented,

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