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Cancer cases up 17% in 10 years in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Cancer cases in Northern Ireland have soared by 17% in the last decade - with experts warning urgent action is still needed to prevent children smoking.

Latest research from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry shows that in 2013, 8,859 people were told they had a form of cancer - 4,435 cases were among men and 4,424 among women.

This has been a jump of 861 more men being diagnosed every year and 781 in women in the last 10 years, revealing that at least one in three will get cancer in their lifetime.

Despite treatment and survival rates improving, an increasingly ageing population, along with higher detection rates combined with smoking levels, have contributed to the diagnosis of cases.

Prostate, colorectal and lung were the most common among men between 2009 and 2013.

Meawhile, breast cancer was the most common among women, followed by colorectal and then lung.

In the last 20 years cases have risen by almost 30%, with an estimated 63,000 people now living with the disease. Over half of all cancer patients survived five years, after diagnosis jumped from 36.5% to 51.5% for men and from 47.3% to 55.1% for women.

Previous research showed survival rates for breast cancer in Northern Ireland were 81.9% - the highest in the UK and Ireland.

Within Northern Ireland there are an estimated 55,000 cancer survivors, a figure that reaches two million across the UK.

But although survival rates are improving, death rates among lung cancer in women is still rising, leading to fresh calls for more action to be taken to stop children starting to smoke.

Over the last decade the number of lung cancer deaths has risen from 508 in men and 328 in women to 553 in men and 387 in women.

If you live in more socially disadvantaged areas there is a higher chance of being diagnosed. Cases are 14% higher in the most deprived communities compared to the Northern Ireland average.

Anna Gavin, director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said although survival rates were improved, people needed to change their lifestyles and more action was needed to prevent the next generation smoking.

"If the 13 and 14-year-old children now can. say, make a pledge to not to smoke. If some sort of challenge can be made for them not to take up the habit in 20 to 30 years' time we shall see the benefits," she said.

"We already know that not smoking, cutting down on alcohol, getting plenty of fruit and veg and staying active can reduce the risk of developing cancer.

"We could actually reduce our numbers of cancer or keep them steady even with the ageing population if we were to tackle tobacco and obesity."

’After watching  my mum die a cruel death, I had elective surgery to save my life’

Hazel Carson (40) from Ballynahinch is a mother of four young children.

She underwent major surgery after discovering she carried the faulty BRCA1 gene. This meant she had an 80% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her own mother developed breast then ovarian cancer and died in 1997 when she was just 45. Hazel’s aunt also developed breast cancer but survived.

A GP urged Hazel, a PE teacher at Wellington College, and her three sisters to go for genetic testing, and at age 29, it was confirmed she was a carrier.

“In 2009 I had both a double mastectomy and a bilateral oophorectomy (ovary removal) and hysterectomy. From that point I haven’t looked back.

“Cancer is not the death sentence that it once was 20 years ago. The survival rate is so much better if it is caught early. The more you know the better you are at treating it.

“The GP refered me to the family history clinic but because we already knew we carried the gene I went for the referral to get an appointment with the surgeon.

“Personally for me it wasn’t a difficult decision it was very clear. I always knew I would have preventative surgery.

“When you watch your mum eventually take breast cancer, take ovarian cancer then go through a very long, cruel death in her last days you become more empowered to make the decision. And it gives you a strength in your decision you are doing it or longevity of life.

“I think like everyone you have that worry about your body, but you made the choice and you know you’ve done your best.

“I’ve set up the BRCAlink NI support group (www.brcani.co.uk) and meet other women who have or about to go through that journey.”

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