Number of people with cancer to double by 2045 if rates continue

Report says rise could be contained to 50% if recent trends including screening continue

The number of people with cancer is set to double in less than 30 years if current rates for the disease continue, according to a new report.

However, the rise in cases could be contained to 50 per cent if recent trends – which have seen declines for some cancers – continue, the National Cancer Registry forecasts.

The increase in the incidence of cancer is the result of a growing population and the ageing of that population, and will place increased pressure on healthcare services.

The report projects a 111 per cent increase in cancers among men to the year 2045, and an 80 per cent increase among women, based on demographic factors alone. This is equivalent to an estimated 43,000 additional cases.


However, when a more complex projection model taking account of recent or long-term trends is used, the increase in cancer cases for men is just 18 per cent, while for women it is 84 per cent. This amounts to a 50 per cent increase overall.

Reduced smoking

Some trends are contributing to lower rates of cancer, such as increased screening and reduced smoking rates, while growing rates of obesity are leading to an increased incidence of some cancers.

“There are some grounds for optimism,” says Prof Kerri Clough-Gorr, director of the National Cancer Registry. “Recent trends in age-standardised cancer incidence rates, which reflect the risk of an individual being diagnosed with cancer, appear to show a levelling-off or even a decline for a range of cancers.

“If these recent trends continue, increases in numbers of cancers diagnosed may prove to be substantially smaller, but they are still likely to amount to at least a 50 per cent increase by 2045.”

The Irish Cancer Society says the report shows the need for the Government to invest now to cater for a future surge in cases.

"The report shows demand for surgery will increase by almost 8,000 patients a year, demand for radiotherapy will increase by 5,500 patients a year and demand for chemotherapy will increase by 4,500 patients a year," says ICS chief executive Averil Power. "We already have a situation where the surgical and radiotherapy interim targets in the National Cancer Strategy are not being met."

Varies hugely

The expected growth of different types of cancer varies hugely. Taking recent trends into account, the projected increases in case numbers ranges from 0 per cent for prostate cancer in males and 38 per cent for bladder cancer in females to 274 per cent for cancer of the liver, gallbladder and biliary tract for males and 233 per cent for females.

“However, we are already in a situation where the system is unable to cope with the current demand,” Ms Power says. “According to the HSE’s 2019 National Services Plan, ‘the National Cancer Control Programme allocation for 2019 will not enable the service to match referral demands in areas such as radiotherapy, rapid access cancer clinics and diagnostics’.

“We are already looking at a situation where we can’t meet current demand because of lack of Government funding and resources. This paints a worrying picture for the cancer patients of the future.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times