Charity warns Northern Ireland cancer deaths could increase by nearly half in 2040
CANCER deaths in Northern Ireland will increase by nearly 50 per cent in 2040 if current trends continue, a health charity has warned.
The report by Cancer Research UK said around 10,000 people in Northern Ireland are currently diagnosed each year, but this was likely to rise to nearly 14,000 by the end of the decade.
This would mean around 6,700 cancer deaths each year, up from the current figure of close to 4,500.
In total, this would mean roughly 230,000 new cases and 106,600 deaths between 2023 and 2040.
Most of the cases and deaths would be in people aged 70 and over, accounting for 61 per cent of cases and 79 per cent of deaths.
While survival has improved for many cancer types over time, the average age of patients in Northern Ireland is expected to rise by 2040.
This means six in 10 cases will be in people aged 70 and over, compared to around five in 10 today.
Margaret Carr heads the charity's public affairs in Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland’s health service is already at breaking point. It’s deeply worrying that our number of cancer cases is projected to rise so markedly, mainly because we’ll see larger numbers of older cancer patients with more complex care needs," she said.
A cancer strategy for Northern Ireland was published last year and includes actions to meed increased demand.
Ms Carr said the lack of an Executive was instead increasing pressures on the health service and putting the lives of cancer patients at risk.
“The implementation of the strategy – and the agreed budget to do so – is critical to prepare Northern Ireland’s cancer services for the future.”
Key demands from the charity are to address chronic staff and equipment shortages across the HSC sector, pointing out a recent Department of Health publication stated one in ten posts in Northern Ireland's health service are vacant.
Around 40 per cent of cancer cases were also described as "preventable," with two major causes listed as smoking and obesity.
Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, Professor Charles Swanton, said Northern Ireland's health service was "just about treading water" and risked being "overwhelmed" by rising cases.
He said future planning was essential as it took 15 years to train an oncologist, pathologist, radiologist or surgeon.
“I’m hopeful that through investment and reform the health service and advancements in research, future numbers of cancer cases might not be as high as these projections warn. But without the budget and an implementation plan to prepare for this demand, there’s a risk that our hard-fought progress in cancer survival could go into reverse.”