The number of cancer survivors among the general population is on the increase, a new report from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) has shown.
According to the findings, there were over 167,000 survivors of the disease still alive at the end of 2015, excluding cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, which is generally considered non-fatal. This accounts for 3.6% of the Irish population in 2015.
While rates of cancer appear to have stabilised, or even fallen recently, the number of cancers being diagnosed every year continues to increase, largely due to population growth and the fact that people are living longer.
"In combination with ongoing improvements in survival for most cancer types, this has resulted in a growing number of cancer survivors among the general population," the NCRI said.
The data reveals that between 2015 and 2017, an estimated 33,180 invasive cancers were diagnosed annually. When non-fatal non-melanoma skin cancer was excluded, this figure fell to 22,320.
Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in Ireland. Between 2012 and 2014, an average of 8,776 cancer deaths occurred annually. However, overall cancer mortality rates have continued to fall since 1994.
The lifetime risk (to the age of 75 years) of dying from cancer was around one in 10 for women and one in eight for men between 2012 and 2014.
Meanwhile, the leading cause of cancer death during this period was from lung cancer, which accounted for 19% of all cancer deaths in women and 23% in men.
The report pointed out that five-year net survival, i.e. survival that would be expected in the absence of other causes of death, ‘has improved markedly for cancers as a whole and for most cancer types since the mid-1990s'.
"For invasive cancers (excluding the generally less serious non-melanoma skin cancers), overall five-year net survival has increased from 44% for patients diagnosed during 1994-1998 to 61% for those diagnosed during 2009-2013," the report said.
However, despite improvements, five-year survival remains very low for some cancers, most notably pancreatic cancer, with less than 10% of patients surviving for five years post-diagnosis.
Commenting on the report, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) welcomed the fact that there are more survivors in Ireland than ever before, but warned that we are facing into ‘a cancer epidemic'.
"While rates of cancer per 100,000 people in Ireland appear to be stabilising, it is important to note that because of our growing and ageing population, the number of people in Ireland being diagnosed with this disease continues to rise. As such, we are facing into a cancer epidemic. If our health system is not properly equipped to deal with this, our ability to deliver the best outcomes for patients will diminish," said Donal Buggy of the ICS.
He emphasised that a cancer diagnosis can have a ‘lasting impact on survivors, from debilitating treatment side-effects to continued mental health issues'.
"Disappointingly, though, such issues have historically been underserved by our health services. That is why implementing the National Cancer Strategy in full is so important.
"The strategy outlines a comprehensive vision for cancer care in Ireland, which includes increasing the proportion of cancers diagnosed at an earlier stage so that more lives can be saved, and offering cancer survivors a treatment summary and care plan to better communicate and coordinate survivorship care," he noted.
However, Mr Buggy pointed out that for this vision to become a reality, Government investment is required.
He also said that people should not resign themselves to the idea that incidences of cancer will simply continue to grow.
"Four out of 10 cancer cases are preventable by making simple lifestyle choices, as outlined in the European Code Against Cancer. We urge the public to please visit www.cancer.ie/europeancode to find out how they can reduce their risk," he added.