Saturday 25 November 2017

Eilish O'Regan: More of us are getting ill – but our survival chances are rising

More of us are getting ill. Photo by Thinkstock
More of us are getting ill. Photo by Thinkstock

CANCER is on the rise but so are its survival rates – providing some consolation to those who may be daunted by the latest predictions about the future scale of the disease.

Diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. More cancers are being detected earlier, boosting the chances of a cure.

And there have been huge advances in treatment, along with the arrival of powerful new drugs.

More targeted treatments are now available to Irish patients and significant funds are being ploughed into research to provide more breakthroughs.

The most common forms of the disease are cancers of the skin, breast, bowel and lung. And although older age is a risk factor for cancer that we can do nothing about, we still have time to tackle the other hazards.

The golden rules will not change – stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake, follow a healthy diet, exercise and take care in the sun.

Every so often, a new survey reminds us of how far we have to travel in tackling these risks. But if we don't, we are gambling on becoming one of those cancer statistics of the future and taking a chance with our health.

For those who do develop the disease, there is the increasing possibility that they may keep it under control for years due to the advanced treatments.

People can buy time by going from therapy to therapy, adding meaningful years to life. If the projected figures materialise, the burden of cancer will have a massive impact on costs for future governments.

Who gets the expensive drug? It may be that some uncomfortable choices will have to be made as resources come under even more strain. This dilemma is spelt out in the report which says that a further challenge is the growing availability and use of ever more sophisticated and expensive targeted therapy.

While the benefit and more widespread use of chemotherapy has contributed to an improvement in survival, the high cost of some therapies, particularly those for advanced disease, will need to be balanced against the benefits to the patient. There will not just be more cancer patients, but they will be older on average.

This older population will have different needs, responses to treatment and susceptibility to side-effects.

Irish Independent

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