HALF of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in the country's biggest hospital were smokers who had quit, new figures reveal.
An audit of 4,356 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients in St James's Hospital in Dublin between 2003 and 2012 found that 40pc of women and 45pc of men had already quit the habit.
Cancer specialist Prof John Reynolds said the figures were a stark reminder of the dangers of taking up smoking in the first place.
But he stressed that there were still huge benefits for smokers who quit.
"We would never say to anyone that they are wasting their time giving up smoking. There are so many health benefits," said Prof Reynolds. "But it does not spare you the risk of lung cancer. So never start."
The good news is that those who are diagnosed early have a very good chance of being cured– as high as 70pc for stage one of the disease and 50pc for stage two.
The figures, part of a comprehensive audit of all forms of cancer and five-year survival rates in the hospital, did not reveal how long the ex-smokers had been free of tobacco.
The Irish Cancer Society pointed out that the chances of cancer depended on how long a person had smoked. But 10 years after quitting, the risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
The majority of other patients diagnosed in St James's were current smokers. But a minority diagnosed with lung cancer had lived with a smoker or may have developed it from radon, occupational exposure or a genetic disposition.
Prof Reynolds said an increasing feature of patients with various common cancers was that they were being detected early. The Ten-year Cancer Audit Report, launched by Health Minister Dr James Reilly, said the cancer unit – one of eight specialist centres in the country – had cure rates that benchmarked favourably with the best international standards.
The report revealed:
* 4,000 new cancer patients were referred to the hospital last year, a doubling of cases over the decade when non-melanoma patients are excluded.
* Skin cancer is the most common form of the disease and the number of new diagnoses of malignant melanoma has doubled since 2003. The five-year survival rate is 87pc.
* The report examined the details of 1,980 patients with breast cancer in the last decade. The five-year survival rate is around 80pc and 90pc for early-stage disease. This compares to an average of 68pc in earlier years.
* The figures show the changing trend in breast cancer surgery over the years with less women now having full mastectomies. Women are now also more likely to have immediate breast reconstruction.
* Cases of prostate cancer rose five-fold and 180 men are newly diagnosed in the rapid access clinic. Early-stage survival rates for prostate cancer are as high as 89-90pc but fall to 45-71pc for those who start treatment later in the disease.
* Cure rates for oesophageal and gastric cancer are rising.
* The overall survival rate is 35pc and 65pc for node-negative disease, rising to 75pc for stage-one and stage-two disease.
* Women with cervical cancer have a survival rate of 67pc. The rate for those with ovarian cancer is 48pc.
* The hospital looked after 1,708 patients with colorectal cancer and three new cases are diagnosed for treated weekly. The survival rate for colon cancer (large bowel) is 70pc and for rectal cancer is 71pc.
* The average age of patients diagnosed or treated is 60 years.