Cancer survival rates improving, new figures shows

Five-year survival rates have ‘improved markedly’, National Cancer Registry says

Survival rates among people diagnosed with cancer are improving, with almost one in 25 people in the State having overcome the disease, a new report shows.

The National Cancer Registry, which has been collecting information about the disease since 1994, estimates that there were some 167,700 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2015, some 3.6 per cent of the population.

Its latest research states that five-year net survival rates, cases where survival would be expected in the absence of other causes of death, have “improved markedly” for cancers as a whole, and most major cancer types, since the mid-1990s.

For invasive cancers, excluding the usually less serious non-melanoma skin cancers, the survival rate increased from 44 per cent for patients diagnosed between 1994-1998 to 61 per cent for the 2009-2013 period. However, the five-year survival rate remains very low for some cancers such as pancreatic cancer, at less than 10 per cent.


The most common types of cancer survived were breast cancer (24 per cent of all survivors), prostate cancer (20 per cent), colorectal cancer (13 per cent), skin melanoma (7 per cent), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4 per cent) and lung cancer (3 per cent).

“Partly reflecting increasing population and age, the number of new cancer cases increased almost year on year during most of the period 1994-2015,” the report states.

“However, numbers of new cases registered slowed markedly from 2011 in males and less markedly in females from 2010.

“After accounting for population growth and age structure, this translated into a statistically significant 2 per cent annual decline in the male cancer incidence rate during 2011-2015 and no significant change in the female rate during the same period, excluding non-melanoma [cancer] of the skin.”

Incidence rates

An average of 40,570 cancers (20,630 among women and 19,940 among men) or other non-invasive tumours were diagnosed annually between 2015 and this year, an incidence rate of 770 cases per 100,000 women and 795 per 100,000 men.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Ireland after diseases of the circulatory system, with an average of some 8,770 deaths per year from invasive cancers between 2012 and 2014. Lung cancer was the leading form of fatal cancer, accounting for 19 per cent of cancer deaths in women and 23 per cent in men.

Prof Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the registry and professor of cancer epidemiology at University College Cork, said as cancer treatment and survival rates improve, planning for the long-term support and follow-up needs of survivors is “an important health priority”.

“We need to remember that once a person has gone through a diagnosis and a treatment, there are late effects related to those cancer treatments. People’s bodies go through an enormous transformation,” Prof Clough-Gorr said.

“We really need to have healthcare services that are specifically designed for cancer survivors. Someone who has had a cancer diagnosis and treatment is at risk for another cancer. So there needs to be good prevention and detection of new cancers and surveillance of recurrence because recurrence is a big thing, obviously.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times