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Higher rate of cancer diagnosis in Belfast is linked to smoking

By Anna Garvin

Cancer rates depend on what people do with their lives.

If we look at the types of cancer that are highest in Belfast they are those of the lung, stomach, cervical, head and neck, and kidney, which are all linked with tobacco. But it also reflects that Belfast has a very diverse community, and if you divide people up, smoking rates in the socio economically deprived groups are very high.

Londonderry and Strabane also have a high level of tobacco-related cancers - lung and stomach. The unfortunate thing is those are some of the cancers with the poorest survival rates.

I think the new district councils are going to be quite important bodies. They can fund initiatives and have roles more than just bin collection. But we are thinking they will come in with new energy that can influence health authorities.

In Belfast the level of smoking is 28% compared to the average in Northern Ireland of 24%. The Cancer Registry has been in existence for over 20 years and one of the first reports we did was to look at cancer in Northern Ireland by geographical areas and the old district councils of Belfast and Derry were coming up as the highest levels for total cancers and lung.

It is a consistent pattern. We have been collecting information for Northern Ireland over 20 years and in that time a number of total cases increased by 30%. But we see the huge number related to tobacco use.

Every year there are over 1,000 people who die from lung cancer. Services have improved remarkably and now we are among the best in the world. The strain of that 30% of patients means that it is putting a huge burden on the health service. If we take it pictorially we have the new cancer centre but every 15 years we would need a new storey on top to cope with the extra patients.

  • Dr Anna Gavin is director of QUB Northern Ireland Cancer Registry

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