CANCER has touched the lives of almost everyone in Ireland in some manner. The importance of screening cannot be overemphasised.
Early detection of the disease is vital and may also make treatment more effective. In spite of sometimes adverse publicity, BreastCheck, CervicalCheck and BowelCheck, our current three screening programmes for cancer, have been a success and saved lives.
Recently, in the Dáil I raised the issue with the Minister for Health of extending cancer screening in the population. Specifically, I requested the Minister to give consideration to a national population based screening programme for two of the four major cancers in Ireland, which are prostate and lung cancer.
Prostate cancer accounts for 16% of all cancer diagnoses in Ireland and 13% across the European Union. Lung cancer accounts for 11% of diagnoses here, while it is 12% in the rest of the European Union. In the period between 1995 and 2019, the number of cancer cases in Ireland increased by more than 100%.
As a result, cancer mortality in Ireland has also risen from 7,500 deaths in 1995 to 9,300 deaths in 2018. However, it is important to point out that as people are now living longer, the rate of cancer in our older population is also increasing. With increased life expectancy comes increased cancer rates. As a result, mortality rates are increasing.
There is an expectation that cancer cases will increase from 27,000 in 2020 to 42,000 in 2040. I believe that it is absolutely imperative that we address this all important issue head on now by putting in place systems such as extended screening to identify cancers at a very early stage to ensure the best possible outcome for patients. Failure to do so also has a knock on effect on a health system which is already under pressure, and on the dedicated staff who work within it. It is also important that we run major public information campaigns in relation to each of the cancers which enable us to identify possible symptoms. Again, it is important to point out that if anyone has concerns about their health, they should always seek medical advice.
I requested that the Minister give proper consideration to extending the screening programme for two of the four major cancers in Ireland, prostate and lung cancer.
Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte informed me that Minister Donnelly is currently awaiting the report of the National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC) who are due to publish their findings shortly. NSAC advises the Minister and Department of Health on the development of programmes for population based screening. The European Commission also adopted an updated recommendation of the Council on cancer screening in September 2022. Their final recommendation is expected to be formally approved and published this month. NSAC will consider the recommendation and advise the Minister and Department of Health accordingly.
Survival rates have improved in the three areas for which we have screening programmes, in particular in the age group where screening takes place.
Minister Rabitte assured me of her and the Minister’s ongoing commitment to the expansion of population based screening in Ireland. The IHE Report on Cancer in Ireland notes that Europe now accounts for 10 percent of the world’s population but has quarter of the world’s cancer cases. This report goes on to say that unless we take decisive action, lives lost to cancer in the EU will increase by more than 24% by 2052, which would make it the leading cause of death.
However, there is some good news too.
As already mentioned, cancer survival rates have improved over the number of years since screening was introduced alongside advances in research and treatments. The latest cancer report published by the National Cancer Registry showed cancers detected through screening showed the biggest improvements in the age targeted by the national screening programme.
I am firmly of the opinion that if we succeed in extending screening to lung and prostate cancer, it will further improve survival rates for these two cancers. Improvements in survival rates are a combination of two things-early detection and diagnostics plus treatment (IHE Report 2022). Ireland should be at the forefront of any developments in this area.