Nearly two in three cancer patients alive after five years, figures show

Rising number of cases a ‘wake-up call’ for need to improve services, says charity

Nearly two out of every three patients who get cancer are still alive five years later as survival rates continue to improve, new figures show.

The five-year survival rate for cancer patients was 63 per cent for men and 61 per cent for women in 2012-16, up from 39 per cent and 46 per cent in 1994-99, according to the annual report of the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI).

While survival rates vary hugely across different types of cancer, improvements have occurred for most forms of the disease.

Almost 37,000 cancers are diagnosed every year, or 25,000 when less serious skin cancers are excluded, with rates among men 20 per cent higher than for women.


Cancer incidence has stabilised and even declined in recent years but with the population growing and ageing, case numbers are forecast to double by 2045.

Cancer is the most common cause of death, accounting for about 9,000 deaths a year. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, accounting for 20 per cent in women and 22 per cent in men. The risk of dying of cancer is about a third higher for men than for women.


Internationally, Irish survival rates are in the top half of countries surveyed for 14 out of 18 common cancers.

The NCRI said there is scope for improvement in some areas: Ireland ranks 23rd out of 24 countries for ovarian cancer survival, 16th for breast and cervix and 13th for colon.

Our ranking for these cancers is static, apart from cervical cancer where it has improved.

Our best performance internationally are in cancers of the oesophagus (fourth highest survival rate), pancreas (eighth), lung (sixth), melanoma skin (eighth), prostate (sixth), brain (adults, fourth and children, seventh), myeloid and lymphoid cancers in adults (fifth and sixth respectively) and lymphoma in children (fourth).

Ireland’s ranking for liver cancer, myeloid cancer in adults and childhood lymphomas has worsened since the last set of international figures was compiled.

One in 25 in the population is now a survivor of cancer, thanks to improved survival rates. An estimated 190,000 people are living after a diagnosis of invasive cancer, other than non-melanoma skin cancer, or 3.9 per cent of the population.

‘Wake-up call’

Cancer prevalence is highest for breast cancer, 23 per cent of all cancer survivors, prostate cancer (21 per cent) and colorectal cancer (12 per cent).

NCRI director Prof Kerri Clough-Gorr described the implications of the trends in cancer incidence as “largely positive”.

For men, the most common cancers are prostate, colorectal, lung and melanoma. For women, they are breast, lung, colorectal and melanoma.

The five-year survival rate varies from 97 per cent for cancer of the testes and 92 per cent for prostate cancer, to 20 per cent for lung cancer, 19 per cent for liver cancer and 10 per cent for pancreatic cancer.

The Irish Cancer Society said the rising number of cases should serve as a "wake-up call" for the need to improve services.

“The updated figures come amid an extraordinarily difficult year for those affected by cancer, during which the lack of resilience in the health system was exposed and patients experienced increased levels of stress and worry due to disrupted services during the pandemic,” said the charity.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times