Belfast Telegraph

One in five die of cancer within six months of diagnosis, figures show

A fifth of people diagnosed with cancer die within six months of finding out they have the disease. (stock photo)
A fifth of people diagnosed with cancer die within six months of finding out they have the disease. (stock photo)

By Lisa Smyth

A fifth of people diagnosed with cancer die within six months of finding out they have the disease.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) also revealed stark disparities in the rates and kinds of cancers people develop depending on their social status.

According to the statistics, the number of cancer cases in Northern Ireland increased by 15% over a decade.

The rise in the number of people diagnosed with cancer, from 8,269 cases in 2008 to 9,521 cases in 2017, has been largely attributed to the ageing population.

The research offers a detailed insight into the prevalence of cancers between 1993 and 2017 and has highlighted the success of cancer screening programmes.

Rates in bowel cancer decreased between 2012 and 2017 by 4.8% each year among men and by 0.3% each year between 1993 and 2017 among women.

Meanwhile, the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer dropped by 22%.

Dr Lesley Anderson, NICR deputy director, said she expects the rates of cervical cancer to drop further as the effects of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine are felt.

All girls can get the HPV vaccine free from the health service from the age of 12 up to their 18th birthday.

It helps to protect them against cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK.

However, the figures have also highlighted that further work is required to encourage people to make lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in both men and women, while there was a 66% increase in the number of women diagnosed with liver cancer between 2008 and 2017.

Dr Anderson said this reinforces the importance of smoking cessation services, as well as encouraging people to drink less alcohol as it increases the risk of developing liver cancer.

She also said the fact that 20% of people who die within six months of diagnosis demonstrates that education and screening programmes are essential in saving lives.

"There are still people who present quite late and the difference between someone having stage one cancer and stage three or four is significant," she said.

"Being diagnosed at an earlier stage means that the treatment is generally not as severe and the outcomes are better, which is of course better for the patient and better for the health service.

"It is important that people attend screening programmes where they are available and that education and awareness programmes are rolled out to help people make lifestyle choices that reduce their risk of developing cancer, and also to recognise signs of cancer and get themselves checked out as soon as possible."

The statistics also highlighted the fact that social status plays a part in cancer risk.

Overall, cancer incidence was 10% higher in the most deprived areas compared to the Northern Ireland average and 4% lower than average in the least deprived areas.

It also plays a part in the kind of cancer they are at risk of developing, with exposure to sun, obesity, smoking and drinking all playing a part in increasing the chance of falling ill.

According to the figures, people who live in areas of less deprivation are more likely to be diagnosed with skin and breast cancer.

Dr Anderson said she believes this is because they are more likely to experience sun exposure and access breast cancer screening services.

People living in areas of high deprivation are more at risk of developing lung cancer, which corresponds with the higher rates of smoking.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said the exact reason why cancer develops in a person is often unknown.

However, it said that up to 40% of cancers are preventable.

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