Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland ‘lagging woefully behind’ on survival rates for some cancers

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce released the data on Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day.

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce has shared data about survival rates in Northern Ireland
The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce has shared data about survival rates in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland is “lagging woefully behind” on survival rates for cancer, a lobby group has said.

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) has shared data which ranks Northern Ireland as low as 30th for five-year survival for lung cancer and 29th for pancreatic cancer out of 33 countries of comparable wealth and income levels.

The group said the overall poor survivability for less survivable cancers is similar across all UK nations.

The taskforce, which represents six less survivable cancers – lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach – with an average five-year survival rate of just 16%, released the findings on Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day.

They are based on a new analysis of existing data and the world survival rankings of cancers of the lung, liver, brain, oesophagus, pancreas and stomach.

The countries with the highest five-year survival rates for less survivable cancers were Korea, Belgium, US, Australia and China and the new analysis found that, if people in the UK survived at the same rate as those in these countries, then more than 8,000 lives could be saved annually.

The group said the differential in survival rates may be because of delayed diagnosis and slow access to treatment.

It has hosted events at Holyrood, the House of Commons and the Senedd this week to talk to MPs, MSPs and MSs about the critical situation for people diagnosed with less survivable cancers.

The group is calling for a commitment from all UK governments to increase survival rates to 28% by 2029.

Anna Jewell, chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, said the government must commit to make a difference.

“People diagnosed with a less survivable cancer are already fighting against the odds for survival,” she said.

“The figures we’re sharing today show that people living in the UK have even worse prospects than those living in comparable countries.

“We can see from these statistics that if we could bring the survivability of these cancers on a level with the best-performing countries in the world then we could give valuable years to thousands of patients.

“If we’re going to see positive and meaningful change then all of the UK governments must commit to proactively investing in research and putting processes in place so we can speed up diagnosis and improve treatment options.”

Anna Beretta from Newry, lost her mother, Virginia to pancreatic cancer in June 2021.

She died just six months after first experiencing symptoms.

She emphasised that time is “of the essence” for people with less survivable cancers.

“Urgency is important for pancreatic cancer, and other less survivable cancers,” she said.

“Mum’s GP missed an opportunity to fully investigate her symptoms, and even after she was admitted to A&E we had to wait four more weeks to have the diagnosis officially confirmed.

“Everything was painfully slow. I know that resources are stretched, but there should never be more than a four-week wait like there was with my mum.

“Time is of the essence for people with less survivable cancers.

“Diagnosis must be made earlier to save lives and education is needed so that healthcare professionals know what symptoms to look out for.”