Sunday 22 September 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Now is the time to investigate how we can catch up with nations that have tackled this deadly disease with the greatest success'

'Deprived patients were approximately 40pc more likely to die from their cancer within five years of diagnosis than those from the better-off group' (stock photo)
'Deprived patients were approximately 40pc more likely to die from their cancer within five years of diagnosis than those from the better-off group' (stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Ireland has made good progress in improving cancer survival but questions must be asked about why we still trail so many other countries.

Today's international study, comparing rates of progress in a number of high income countries, looks at just some forms of the disease in the oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung, and ovary.

It excludes breast and prostate cancer.

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What is clear is that while a patient diagnosed with any of these cancers in the study stands a much better chance of surviving for five years compared to the mid-1990s, the odds are consistently better in Australia, Canada or Norway.

Despite the gaps, much of the progress in our survival rates here can be attributed to the concentration of diagnosis and treatment in eight hospitals with concentrated expertise since 2008.

Countries like Canada were already much more advanced and it appears services here are still playing catch-up.

The authors of the study at the International Agency for Research on Cancer said several factors can influence survival.

They include the stage at diagnosis, timely access to effective treatment, and a patient's overall state of health and other illnesses they may suffer from.

It points out that improvements are linked to major health reforms, which would reflect our experience in the State.

This has been helped by better technology to allow earlier diagnosis, more effective and tailored treatment and overall better patient management.

More advanced surgical techniques and new guidelines in the area of radiotherapy have also helped.

Further studies are now planned to investigate more thoroughly why there are ongoing differences in survival rates between countries.

More analysis is needed to compare which cancers are being diagnosed later and whether treatments and access differs when compared to other health systems that are achieving better results.

Previous reports here have highlighted poorer survival rates in deprived areas and this may be influencing national statistics. Deprived patients were approximately 40pc more likely to die from their cancer within five years of diagnosis than those from the better-off group.

They were also less likely to have surgery for cancers of the stomach, bowel, lung, breast and prostate.

Significantly it was found patients over 75 years of age at diagnosis were about four times more likely to die from their cancer than those in the 45 to 54-year bracket.

Differences in survival between older and younger patients were greatest for breast and prostate cancers and lymphoma, and least for stomach, colorectal and lung cancers.

We also know that around 3,000 cancers are diagnosed each year in hospital emergency departments.

And more than three in every four cases diagnosed in emergency departments are at an advanced stage.

There is also evidence our cancer services are coming under more pressure.

The most recent statistics also show 45pc of hospitals are missing the two-week time target to assess women with potentially urgent symptoms of breast cancer.

These trends are not proof of why Ireland is still left behind in cancer survival stakes.

But today's international comparison signals the need to find out more on why we are not higher up the survival league table.

Irish Independent

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