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Northern Ireland cancer survival rates at all-time high, say experts

New technology, like the CT scanner, has led to higher detection rates

By Lisa Smyth

Survival rates for patients with leukaemia in Northern Ireland are at their highest level since records began, new research has found.

The statistics have revealed the outcome for children with leukaemia has improved dramatically — with 80% now living longer than five years compared to just 10% of patients 40 years ago.

The study, carried out by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR), has also found that while survival rates for pancreatic cancer remain poor, the figures have doubled in recent years — from 9% in 2008 to 18% in 2010.

The researchers have said this could be due to the changes in service provision, including centralising the service to one site — the Mater Hospital in Belfast.

Dr Anna Gavin, NICR director, said: “Examination of data for pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed in 2010 shows a doubling of survival, a real breakthrough for this disease.

“If such an improvement was seen from a new drug, it would hit the headlines internationally.

“Today we are documenting and celebrating such improvements in cancer services in Northern Ireland, which have come about since service reorganisation was recommended by the then Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell.”

The study is the latest good news for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.

Last week Queen’s University in Belfast was awarded a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its leadership of the Northern Ireland Comprehensive Cancer Services programme which has led to improved cancer survival rates across the province.

The leukaemia audit carried out by NICR also revealed that while each year about 12 children under the age of 14 are diagnosed with acute leukaemia, there are at least 200 people alive in Northern Ireland who were previously diagnosed as a child.

People diagnosed as children make up 20% of the over 900 people alive — who at some stage in the past 18 years — have been diagnosed with leukaemia.

Survival for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has also improved dramatically since the introduction of new drug therapies — from 64% for one-year and 45% for five-year survival in 1993, compared to 77% for one-year and 58% for five-year survival in 2008.

The research found Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a higher survival than non-Hodgkin’s, and has remained steady since the 1990s at 89% for one-year and 79% for five-year survival.

Health Minister Edwin Poots congratulated staff who deliver care as well as scientists who develop treatments for the disease.

“It is a credit to Northern Ireland to have this recognition and great news for cancer sufferers that they have a stronger chance of recovering,” he said.

Factfile

  • Lymphoma is a cancer of lymphatic tissue.
  • Lymphatic tissue which defends against infections is present in several organs in the body such as lymph nodes, spleen, skin, gut and bone marrow.
  • The two main types of lymphoma are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL).
  • Pancreatic cancer is the 11th most common cancer in the UK — over 7,600 people are diagnosed every year. It is more common in older people, with 80% of patients over 60, and is uncommon in people under 40.
  • Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, which are produced by the bone marrow.


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