Now 207,000 cancer survivors living in Ireland

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Prof. Deirdre Murray

By the end of 2020, for the first time, the number of people living in Ireland after an invasive cancer diagnosis exceeded the 200,000 mark to reach 207,000. This is equivalent to 4.2% of the population, or about 1 in 24 persons in Ireland, an increase of over 50% in numbers of cancer survivors compared with one decade ago. 

Prof. Deirdre Murray Director, National Cancer Registry, said this reflected both an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer every year and ongoing improvements in cancer survival.

The figures are contained in the National Cancer Registry 2022 annual statistical report, which summarise cancer data collected up to diagnosis year 2020.

Prof. Murray said about 30% of deaths occurring annually in Ireland are attributable to cancer, with on average 9,493 deaths per year from invasive cancer (5,101 in males, 4,392 in females) during the period 2018-2020, or 9,751 deaths per year from any tumour type, during 2018-2020. Lung cancer was still the leading cause of cancer death, followed by breast and bowel cancer in females and prostate and bowel cancer in males. Bowel cancer was the second most common cancer among male deaths for many years (consistently from 2005 to 2017), but during 2018-2020 its ranking fell to third behind lung and prostate cancers.

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in both sexes during 2018-2020.  In males, cancer of the prostate, colorectal, pancreas and oesophagus were the second, third, fourth and fifth most common categories of cancer deaths, respectively. Colorectal cancer was the second most common cancer death in males during 2016-2018, but dropped to third behind prostate cancer during 2018-2020.   In females, cancer of the breast, colorectal, ovary and pancreas were the second, third, fourth and fifth most common categories of cancer deaths, respectively.

For invasive cancers as a whole (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers), five-year net survival averaged 65% for patients diagnosed during 2014-2018, compared with only 48% for those diagnosed during 1994-1998, a very substantial increase. Major improvements in survival have also been seen for most forms of cancer, though survival still varies markedly by cancer type.  Although the cancers with the poorest average prognosis may not have shown ‘absolute’ increases in survival as high as seen for some cancers, relative increases in survival have still been substantial, including more than a doubling of survival for oesophageal, pancreatic, liver and lung cancer since the 1990s.

The top six most common cancers among survivors were, breast cancer (23% of all cancer survivors), prostate cancer (21%), colorectal (bowel) cancer (11%) and skin melanoma (7%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4%) and lung cancer (4%) which together account for 70% of all cancer survivors.  These figures exclude non-melanoma skin cancers, which are rarely fatal.

Looking at the  COVID-19 impact on 2020 case numbers, the report said the overall shortfall of 10% in registered cancer cases for 2020, coupled with the shortfall of 11% in microscopically verified cases, indicated a reduction in cancer diagnoses during 2020 in the region of 10- 11%. “There is still a possibility that the true shortfall may be slightly higher (if some preliminary case registrations for 2020 prove not to be new cases after further validation). This reduction in cancer diagnoses is likely a result of pandemic-related impacts on health-seeking behaviour among the public and disruptions to cancer control services . Further work is underway to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on numbers of cancers diagnosed in 2021 and across the cancer care pathway in Ireland.”