Cancer cases could double by 2045

Latest figures from National Cancer Registry
  • Deborah Condon

The number of cancer cases diagnosed in Ireland could double by 2045 if current rates continue into the future, a new report by the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI) has warned.

However, the overall rise may only reach a more modest 50% increase if recent trends in some cancers, including declines, continue, the report notes.

This marks the NCRI's fourth set of projections, following on from reports in 2006, 2008 and 2014. These figures aim to ensure that there is up-to-date data available so that adequate planning for cancer services in the future can take place.

The report noted that projected increases in the size and age of the population in Ireland over the next three decades will have ‘significant implications' for the number of cancer cases. The NCRI has projected the number of cancer cases up to 2045 using a number of different methods.

Using a 'demography-only' model, which only looks at changes in population size and age, the report projects a 111% increase for males and an 80% increase for females for all cancers combined between 2015 and 2045 (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). This represents a doubling of cancer cases to 43,000.

However, when an amalgamation of other projection models were used, which take account of recent or long-term trends, such as the recent decline in male cancers as a whole, the projected increase by 2045 is 84% for women and 50% for men.

The report pointed out that in 2015, the highest number of cancer cases (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) were prostate cancer (3,214), female breast cancer (3,106), lung cancer (2,486) and colon cancer (1,797).

The demography-only model projected large increases for each of these by 2045, including a 119% increase in lung cancers (5,450 cases) and a 114% increase in prostate cancers (6,870 cases).

However, the combined models approach projected some differences, such as a 132% increase in lung cancers (5,760), but no change in the number of prostate cancer cases.

Meanwhile, the report also noted that if cancer rates and treatment percentages remain unchanged compared with 2011-2015, the number of newly diagnosed patients who require treatment will increase by 77% for radiotherapy, 75% for surgery and 68% for chemotherapy.

Responding to the report, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) insisted that if action is taken now, it could save thousands of lives in the future.

"We are facing a future where one in two of us will get cancer. Although this fact is frightening, we have been given an opportunity to plan and invest in cancer services so that people are diagnosed early, treated quickly and know how to reduce their risk of getting cancer.

"Our existing cancer services are buckling under current pressure. The Government needs to make investment now to meet the huge surge in demand of the future," commented ICS chief executive, Averil Power.

She noted that the surgical and radiotherapy interim targets in the National Cancer Strategy are not being met, and so the projections about future treatment demands should be treated as ‘warning signals which the Government needs to respond to with concrete actions'.

"We also need to invest in our diagnostic services to catch cancer earlier when it is more treatable. However, we are already in a situation where the system is unable to cope with the current demand.

"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," Ms Power explained.

She also called for more investment in health promotion and cancer prevention, as four in 10 cancers are potentially preventable.

"The hard fought declines in smoking rates are stagnating, and there is much we can do to prevent other cancers, such as those of the skin, so as a society we cannot afford to be complacent.

"We can all reduce our risk of getting cancer by being more careful in the sun, exercising, watching how much we eat and limiting our alcohol intake. The HPV vaccine also gives us an incredible opportunity to virtually eliminate cervical cancer. Together, these actions could save thousands of lives in the years ahead," Ms Power added.

The NCRI's report, Cancer Incidence Projections for Ireland 2020-2045, can be viewed here.


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