Cancer prevalence up 8% in Northern Ireland should spark fresh impetus to tackling waiting lists, says charity

Surgeons performing an operation. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA WireSurgeons performing an operation. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Surgeons performing an operation. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
​New figures showing an 8% rise in the prevalence of cancer in Northern Ireland should provide fresh impetus for action on waiting times, a leading charity has said.

Responding to the publication of the Queen’s University NI Cancer Registry (NICR) – based on two five-year data sets between 2012-2016 and from 2017-2021 – Cancer Focus NI said an ageing population means more cases.

The charity’s policy and public affairs officer Emily Bishko said: "Comparing those two five-year average sets, annual cancer incidence, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, increased by about 8%, and that is unsurprising given that we are an ageing population.

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“This increase goes to show that cancer is increasing, and it is all the more reason why we need to address our waiting times. There are going to be more cancers and that means even more cancers on the backlog, making it even more difficult to catch up and provide timely diagnoses and treatments.”

According to the NICR figures, there were 10,061 (5,120 male, 4,941 female) patients diagnosed with cancer each year during 2017-2021.

Cancer risk was strongly related to age with 34% of cases occurring among people aged 75 years and over.

Ms Bishko said we “need to make data-based decisions,” and added: "Knowing the stats is super important since they help us see where the... support needs are, which helps us to guide our advocacy, services, and more."

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Action Cancer chief executive Gareth Kirk said that “new treatments of cancer and other illnesses improving survival rates,” was also a factor in the rise in cases.

“Whilst certain cancers have shown an increase in prevalence, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, cancer of the lung, bowel, breast (in women) and prostate (in men) still remain our most prevalent cancers.

"Although treatment options have significantly improved, it remains true that the earlier a cancer is detected the better the prognosis and outcome. It is therefore very important that when the opportunity is offered that people avail of the three cancer screening services of breast, bowel and cervical available in NI.”

Mr Kirk also urged the Department of Health to urgently assess the merits of introducing a lung cancer screening service.