Cancer :: Northern Ireland improvements in cancer survival

There have been improvements in cancer survival in Northern Ireland between 1993 and 2004, according to a new report from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR).

Survival of Cancer Patients in Northern Ireland: 1993 – 2004 shows relative survival rates have improved in both males and females diagnosed from 1997 – 2000 compared with 1993 -1996. Between 1993 and 2004, there was a drop of 1.3 per cent in male mortality rates and 0.8 per cent in female mortality rates.

One of the best indicators as to the efficiency of diagnostic and treatment methods for cancer in Northern Ireland is survival. Survival is a measure of many aspects of cancer care including delays in diagnosis, the standard of treatment, its timeliness and the overall quality of care.

According to the report, during 1993-2003 there was significant and continuous improvement in both one and five-year relative survival for the category ‘all cancers’. Estimates using period analysis also suggest that five-year survival will improve further for patients diagnosed in 2001 to 2004.

Welcoming the report, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the NICR said: “This publication will play a significant part in the future development of cancer care in Northern Ireland. The study is also included in Eurocare 4 which allows comparison of information between 83 cancer registries in 22 European countries. This in itself is a very important development for Northern Ireland.

“The report also emphasises the impact of smoking in the changing patterns of cancer incidence. While tobacco use in males and females is now similar, we are still seeing the effects of tobacco use in the population 20 to 30 years ago when men smoked at least twice as much as women.

“This has resulted in levels of lung, stomach and oesophageal cancer in males, which is one and a half times those in females. Unfortunately, these cancers have poor relative survival – lung cancer at 5 years is 9 per cent, stomach 17 per cent and oesophagus 13 per cent. In addition people with a tobacco related cancer tend also to have other tobacco related diseases, especially heart disease, which reduces the chance of a full recovery.

“People in Northern Ireland are reluctant to bother their GP and so often neglect the early signs of cancer: a lump, change in bowel habit, weight loss, a sore which does not heal, a cough which does not clear up, unusual bleeding or pain. These may indicate an early cancer and a simple check up could save a person’s life. Breast and cervical cancers may be picked up early by screening and so women invited for such programmes should attend.

“There are ongoing moves within the Health Service to improve services for cancer patients and reduce waiting times. This should improve the treatment of cancer patients and survival. Prevention is, however, still better than cure and people are urged to take simple lifestyle steps to reduce their risk of ever getting cancer.”

Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s, Professor Peter Gregson said: “Timely, detailed and accurate statistical information is crucial in the fight against cancer. As this comprehensive report illustrates, the work of Dr Gavin and her team in the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry plays a vital and valued role in this respect by providing key information to support research, planning and education.

“It is the close working relationship between the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology led by Professor Paddy Johnston, coupled with Queen’s links with the National Health Service, which places Northern Ireland at the forefront of worldwide initiatives to relieve the human suffering of cancer.”

Professor Roy Spence, Consultant Surgeon and Chairman of the Council of Northern Ireland Cancer Registry added: “There have been many recent changes to Cancer Services in Northern Ireland such as advice on alarm symptoms, screening for breast and cervical cancer and the re-organisation of cancer services.

“These survival statistics provide a window through which we can measure the impact of change and even though the time of follow up is short it is pleasing to note detectable improvements. While measuring these improvements, this data also highlights areas where survival has remained unchanged and where we need to concentrate our efforts. Much has been achieved and there is still much to do.”