Ireland's cancer survival rates among worst in western Europe
Ireland is one of the countries with the lowest cancer survival rate in western Europe, according to one of the largest-ever studies of the disease.
Research involving more than 10 million patients in 29 countries found five-year survival rates of 50.1pc for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
This is almost one third lower than Sweden, the top performing country in northern Europe, where the five-year cancer survival rate was 64.7pc.
The data, which covers diagnoses from 1999-2007, is the latest European-wide statistics available. It was presented to the European Cancer Congress in Vienna.
The most recent report from the National Cancer Registry in Ireland suggests there have been improvements in survival rates in more recent years.
It indicated that five-year survival rates for all cancers in Ireland went up from 45pc for patients diagnosed in 1994-1999, to 59pc during 2006-2011.
The re-organisation of cancer services, which had been delivered in 32 hospitals, into eight more hospitals is helping to improve the diagnosis and treatment of the disease here since 2008.
However, the Eurocare study, presented to the conference this weekend, shows how far Ireland has been lagging behind countries such as Austria, Belgium, Finland and Iceland - where survival rates were all at over 60pc.
The data, also published in the European Journal of Cancer, was presented by Milena Sant, MD, from the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, Italy.
He said that comparisons of cancer patients' survival and care in Europe up to 2007 show that, although more patients are surviving for at least five years after diagnosis, there are large variations between countries. This is particularly significant in cancers of the blood, he said.
"The most dramatic geographical variations were observed for cancers of the blood where there have been recent advances in treatment, such as chronic myeloid and lymphocytic leukaemias, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and two of its sub-types (follicular and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma), and multiple myeloma," said Dr Sant.
"Hodgkin lymphoma was the exception, with smaller regional variations and a fairly good prognosis in most countries."
The average five-year relative survival, standardised for age, for Hodgkin lymphoma was the highest of all the blood cancers at 81pc, with variations ranging from 79.4pc for Ireland and the UK, to 85pc in Northern European countries and 74.3pc in Eastern European countries.
For cancers that have a fairly good prognosis, the European average five-year relative survival was 82pc for breast, 57pc for colon, 56pc for rectum, 83pc for melanoma, and 83pc for prostate.
Smaller variations were seen in cancers with a poorer prognosis; lung cancer had a European average five-year relative survival of 13pc. That was 9pc in Ireland and the UK and 15pc in central Europe.
Dr Sant said variations in survival were due to a number of factors: differences in the biology and behaviour of some cancers and in screening and diagnosis.
Screening such as Breastcheck and Bowelcheck in Ireland can pick up breast and bowel cancers earlier and at a more treatable stage.
The availability of newer and better treatments also play an important role.
Dr Jerome Coffey, head of cancer services in the National Cancer Control Programme of the HSE, recently told the Irish Independent that, while improvements in cancer services have been made, they need to be speeded up.
He would like to see the number of medical oncologists employed here increased and he wants quicker access to scans for GPs in some areas of the country who want to have their patients checked for potential cancer symptoms.