Major Cancer Survival Gap In Ireland

People from the most disadvantaged communities in Ireland have a significantly lower chance of surviving cancer after five years according to new research presented to the Irish Cancer Society Charles Cully Memorial Lecture today.

The new data has been compiled by the National Cancer Registry of Ireland and is due to be published in early 2016.

The Irish Cancer Society says that the continuing problem in accessing diagnostics for patients have had a significant effect in maintaining the ‘Cancer Gap’ – where those from the most deprived communities are twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer as those who are least deprived.

“Where you live has a significant impact on how long you live,” says Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications. “Cancer affects all parts of Irish society but some people are more at risk than others. The data presented today shows that those in the poorest communities in Ireland have a reduced chance of surviving their cancer diagnosis.”

The NCRI data also shows significant differences in the five-year survival rates for colorectal cancer – 64% for least deprived against 56% for the most deprived – and lung cancer – 22% for the least deprived against 16% for the most deprived.

“The reasons for this are multiple but often the people in these communities have the greatest difficulties in accessing healthcare. Late diagnosis can lead to late treatment and to worse outcomes. In some deprived Dublin areas, there are not enough primary care resources – for instance in North Dublin there is one GP for every 2,500 people. Nationally this figure is 1:1,600.

“It’s going to take a big effort on the part of government, the HSE and organisations like the Irish Cancer Society to take action in closing this worrying divide. But it can be done.

The Irish Cancer Society wants to see a suite of measures introduced if we are to have any hope of closing the Cancer Gap.

“The new data highlighted today which shows that if you come from a poorer community you are less likely to survive cancer,” says Ms O’Meara. “This is hugely unfair. All communities and backgrounds should have equal access to diagnostics and fast treatment.”

According to a research report published by the Irish College of General Practitioners in 2013, access to diagnostics is a serious problem for public patients in Ireland. According to general practitioners, public patients have an average wait of 14 weeks for abdominal and pelvic ultrasound. Once again, location can have a bearing on access to these procedures where delays can varied from one day to 42 weeks. In contrast, private patients have an average wait of just over four days.3

“Everyone has an equal right to being diagnosed early”, says Ms O’Meara. “There are positive sounds coming from those in power in health. There has been Government recognition that health inequalities are damaging to the wellbeing of the country. ‘Healthy Ireland’, the Government’s plan to improve the health and wellbeing of Ireland, was published in March 2013 and one of its four main goals is reducing health inequalities. We want the next National Cancer Strategy to have tackling health inequalities as a priority.

“As we approach the significant year of 2016 in Ireland, we want to see the next government commit to closing the Cancer Gap once and for all.”

Sir Harry Burns, Former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, was the keynote speaker at today’s Charles Cully Memorial Lecture. He was also the recipient of the Charles Cully Medal Award for playing a leading role in addressing health inequalities during his career.

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