Extended smoking ban could lower lung cancer death, report claims

The Republic of Ireland's smoking ban should profoundly lower the rates of lung cancer, the country's leading cancer killer, a new report has claimed.  The ‘All Ireland Cancer Statistics Second Report 1998-2000’ says that prevention initiatives need to be implemented right across the island in a bid to target urban areas which have the highest incidence.

Launched today at Queen's University Belfast, the collaborative report by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and the National Cancer Registry (Ireland) examines data from both regions to assess the cancer incidence and mortality on the island of Ireland.  Most information is based on 1998-2000 data; trends are from 1994 to 2000.  The report focuses on cancers that are life-threatening, represent a substantial burden to the general population and can be prevented or cured.  Additionally, all cancer sites combined, all childhood cancers and lymphoma are profiled since these are often a concern to the public, researchers and policy makers.  Each year there are over 19,000 new cancer cases and 11,000 cancer deaths throughout Ireland.

As well as recommending more lung cancer prevention initiatives island-wide, the report also recommends that the Republic increases its breast cancer screening services.  While breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women across Ireland, mortality rates in Northern Ireland, where screening programmes are well established, have fallen by more than 20 per cent between 1994 and 2000.  In the Republic breast cancer mortality rates were the same in 2000 as they were in 1994. 

These findings support the planned extension of the National Breast Screening Programme in the Republic of Ireland.  BreastCheck commenced in March 2000 with phase one of the Programme covering the Eastern Regional Health Authority, Midland Health Board and North Eastern Health Board areas.  Screening is being offered free of charge to all women in those areas in the target age group 50 to 64 years of age.  Last year, the Minister for Health and Children announced the extension of the programme to Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and also the national roll-out to the Southern and Western counties. 

The report reveals that incidence and mortality rates for prostate cancer in the Republic of Ireland are significantly higher than those in Northern Ireland.  Increased PSA testing may be responsible for the rise in incidence rates as well as the wide variation in incidence rates between regions.  The report points out that the benefits of prostate cancer screening are unclear.  Added to this uncertainty is the widespread and growing use of PSA tests. 

The Report reveals that for childhood cancers, incidence and mortality rates are the same or lower than the rates in the EU and the US.  The five year survival rate for all children in Ireland is essentially the same as in the US and better than in Europe. 

The report also highlights differences from region to region and among the sexes.  For colorectal cancer the incidence in men is 1.5 times higher than in women.  "Understanding why regional variations exist, and targeting prevention programmes to those regions and populations at highest risk should be a public health priority", the report says.

Commenting on the report, Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Henrietta Campbell said it proved the importance of cancer registration as one of our most important public health tools.  "It provides concrete evidence of the benefits of the National Cancer Institute, Ireland and the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry Consortium which aims to promote joint programmes of work.  This report, the result of several years of collaboration, highlights some areas of success and identifies areas for action to improve cancer outcomes in Ireland. We must take note of its recommendations”, she said.

Welcoming the publication Dr. Jim Kiely, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Children in Ireland, said: " This aspect of the work of the Consortium has proven to be particularly valuable, both in terms of the actual information it gives us in relation to cancer in the island as a whole, and the clear example it provides us of the type of co-operation that lies at the heart of the mission of the Consortium.  The authors of this report deserve our commendation for the excellence of their work which will provide a sound basis for future planning in this most important of public health policy areas.  The key goal of the National Cancer Strategy 1996 was to achieve a 15% decrease in mortality from cancer in the under-65 year age group in the 10 year period from 1994.  The Evaluation of the National Cancer Strategy demonstrated that this figure was achieved in 2001, which was 3 years ahead of target.  The National Cancer Forum is currently developing a new National Cancer Strategy.  The new Strategy will set out the key priorities for the development of cancer services over the coming years, building on the achievements to date, and will make recommendations in relation to the organisation of cancer services nationally. The Strategy is due to be published at the end of this year.”


The report was jointly funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Health and Children in the Republic.

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