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Action needed to cut soaring Northern Ireland cancer rate, charity warns

Trend: Gerry McElwee
Trend: Gerry McElwee
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The number of new cancer patients in Northern Ireland could soar by more than 60% by 2035, a charity has warned.

Cancer Focus NI says incidence of cancer will rise by nearly two-thirds within 20 years unless rigorous action is taken now through effective government policy and strong partnerships with health organisations.

The projected increase is due to people living longer and is one of the biggest challenges facing the health service here.

Between 2009-2013 there were 4,347 male and 4,175 female cancer cases diagnosed annually.

The warning came as European experts met in Belfast to discuss ways to cut cases of the disease across the Continent by up to 50%.

Delegates at the European Code Against Cancer workshop heard of the steps being taken here to implement cancer prevention measures, including advice and recommendations on nutrition, sun care, physical activity, not smoking and limiting alcohol, which would help cut the risk of cancer by as much as half.

They also visited Stormont to hear about the work of the Assembly's all-party group on cancer and held talks with MLAs.

Gerry McElwee of Cancer Focus NI said the extremely worrying trend needs to be tackled urgently.

"If implemented, these lifestyle changes would drastically reduce cancer incidence," he said.

"But we can't just hope that individuals will take these on unless they're supported by public policy at a local and national government level."

Despite the absence of a Health Minister, Mr McElwee said that while some policy issues around cancer have stalled - including proposals to ban smoking in cars carrying children - others have progressed.

In September it was announced that cancer patients here will have the same access to drugs currently being offered to patients in the rest of the UK.

Last month an improved bowel cancer screening test was confirmed while the HPV vaccine to help prevent a range of cancers is to be introduced for boys aged 12-13 from this September.

Among those visiting Belfast this week to discuss the opportunities for improving cancer prevention in Europe is Joachim Schuz from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

"We have to raise awareness of the importance of investing in cancer prevention. If we don't reverse the trends in the face of increasing life expectancy then European counties will find themselves with major economic and capacity burdens and unable to treat cancer," he said.

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