Trends in brain cancer in Ireland: our latest report published

In the latest trends report published by the Registry on primary brain cancer, information is presented on incidence, treatment and survival.

Graph if brain cancer incidence

The latest trends report from the Registry, covering primary brain cancer, has recently been published. On average, about 290 malignant primary tumours of the brain are diagnosed in Ireland every year, representing just under 2% of all invasive cancers. They are more commonly diagnosed in men than in women and the median age at diagnosis is 60. A further 40 non-malignant tumours of the brain are diagnosed annually, on average, along with about 190 tumours (mainly benign) of other parts of the central nervous system and surrounding membranes (meninges). These, and secondary cancers of the brain, originating from primary cancers elsewhere in the body, are not considered further in this report.

Astrocytic tumours are the most common subtype (about 67%) of all malignant brain cancers; of these, the majority, especially in adults, are high-grade (generally highly fatal) glioblastomas. A further 15% of cases fall within other specific subtypes (mainly oligodendrogliomas, oligoastrocytomas, embryonal tumours and ependymomas). Classification of brain tumours is complex, and almost 20% of Irish cases are not classified to subtype, largely as a result of some patients, particularly the elderly, not undergoing biopsy or surgery and being diagnosed through imaging or clinical assessment only. However, there has been an increase in the proportion of patients pathologically diagnosed over time.

Incidence rates for primary brain cancers overall have remained more or less unchanged over the twenty year period 1994-2013. Of specific subtypes, only oligodendrogliomas showed any significant increase in incidence, but improvements in diagnosis could be a factor and the proportion of unspecified subtypes has fallen over time.Radiotherapy and surgery, either alone or in combination, represent the main treatments for primary brain cancer. The use of radiotherapy has increased over time, as has the use of chemotherapy, while the proportion with no recorded treatment has fallen. Temozolomide is currently the most common chemotherapy drug administered to patients.

Average survival rates are poor and, for primary malignant brain cancers as a whole, five-year net survival remains unchanged at 19%, similar to figures in the UK. Glioblastoma and other high-grade astrocytic tumours have the poorest survival with just 4% of glioblastoma patients surviving five years post diagnosis. Incidence and mortality rates in Ireland are similar to those reported for the European Union overall.

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