Wednesday 17 January 2018

Cancer epidemic is underestimated

Expert warns that prediction cases will double by 2040 is too low

Dr Robert O’Connor says numbers are increasing
Dr Robert O’Connor says numbers are increasing

Eilish O’Regan

The scale of the cancer epidemic facing Ireland has been underestimated, a leading expert has warned.

Predictions that cases of cancer will double by 2040 are now known to be too low,  said Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society.

“Around 40,000 will be diagnosed with cancer this year,” he said. “The numbers are increasing by around 2,000 annually.”

When the National Cancer Registry predicted a doubling of the disease by 2040, it was based on the higher risks for the ageing population.

However, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and alcohol consumption, making people more prone to the disease, will mean this is now out of date.

Around 100 patients will  be  diagnosed with cancer today alone. Dr O’Connor was speaking as the Irish Cancer Society embarked on its biggest annual national fundraising drive, Daffodil Day, today.

Daffodil Day has raised €63.6m in 29 years to help support the charity’s services including research, night nurses and its helpline. Obesity increases the risk of breast and cancer of the womb. Alcohol consumption is linked to stomach, bladder and oesophageal cancer.

While the incidence of the disease is rising, survival rates are also improving. The survival rate for breast cancer patients is now around 85pc and up to 90pc for prostate cancer. The vast majority of children struck with leukaemia also survive.

Other forms of the disease such as cancer of the pancreas or ovaries are lagging behind in survival rates, often because of late diagnosis.

“Cancers don’t always grow at the same rate,” he said.

Cancer continues to be more common among the less well-off. In the Dublin suburb of Mulhuddart, the cancer death rate was three times that of the more well-off neighbouring Castleknock, he pointed out.

He described the fall-off in the take-up by some teenage girls of the HPV vaccine as distressing. The vaccine, which can reduce the risk of cervical cancer, was potentially life-saving, he insisted.

It is also vital that people in certain older age groups who are invited to take part in screening for breast or bowel cancer avail of them.

The Irish Cancer Society was at the centre of controversy earlier this year after it announced it was ending its financial support programme to help families cope with the expenses of the disease.

It later did a U-turn and reopened the scheme for the families of children with cancer.

After its €7.4m payroll cost – with 10 staff being paid over €70,000 – came under scrutiny, the charity’s chief executive John McCormack took a €10,000 pay cut. It brought his salary to €135,000.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that “work is ongoing with regard to managing costs and increasing income”.

She said: “As part of its strategic planning, the society is commencing its next planning cycle in the next couple of months, a process which will take a number of months. As part of this process, all activities of the organisation will be reviewed to ensure cancer patients, volunteers and donors are served to the maximum by the Society.”

Daffodil Day is supported by Dell, which is hosting several fundraisers. And apart from buying a daffodil, people can donate online at or text Daff to 503000 to donate €4. Callsave 1850 60 60 60.

Irish Independent

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