How province leads the way in surviving cancer
Queen's University's Comprehensive Cancer Services programme is helping to make the 'Big C' become smaller, says Patrick Johnston
Cancer survivorship' is a term we're hearing a lot more of in Northern Ireland these days. And that's because, in spite of the rising incidence of the disease, the number of people surviving cancer is increasing significantly year on year.
Each year, there are between 50 and 60 men and women who survive cancer who previously would have died.
Our survival rates are among the best in the UK and patients are benefiting from improved treatment outcomes up to 4% better than those for England and Wales.
Today in Northern Ireland, for more people than ever, cancer is no longer seen as a killer disease.
It can now be viewed as a chronic disease.
And there is a reason for this; a reason that is being acknowledged today at Buckingham Palace.
It is thanks to Northern Ireland's Comprehensive Cancer Services programme, a collaboration led by Queen's University in partnership with the Department of Health and the five health and social care trusts, with support from the medical research industry.
Today, this programme is being recognised at the palace with a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in this Diamond Jubilee year. It is the most prestigious UK honour a higher education institution can receive.
It is for everyone who has ever cared for a cancer patient and fought for better clinical services, for anyone who has raised funds or donated money, for our nursing and medical staff, hospital administrators, our researchers and, most importantly, for cancer patients and their families.
People passing our university medical buildings near the City Hospital would be amazed at the work that goes on there.
There are close to 300 exceptional researchers, from 36 different countries, working in the cancer programme. We no longer have to go looking for talented people - they come to us.
As a patient, you will now see people of many disciplines working together - surgeons, radiologists, oncologists, pathologists, GPs and nurses and, at an administrative level, there is the crucial support of the policy-makers at the Department of Health.
Among the innovations has been the development of 'tailored' treatment - helping to achieve not only successful therapy, but an assured quality of life afterwards.
Another unique feature is our Cancer Registry, gathering 'cancer intelligence' and acting as an information hub for everyone involved, including clinicians, decision-makers and bodies such as Cancer Research UK and the Ulster Cancer Foundation.
At Queen's, we were chosen as one of the first locations in the UK to have a Cancer Research UK Centre. As a result, more than 1,000 patients are now entering clinical trials here each year, compared to only 30 in 1998.
Of course, fulfilling our dream costs money. Over the past 10 years, Queen's and the Health Service have invested more than £200m in infrastructure and personnel. Research awards from outside sources between 2004 and 2010 totalled £51m - £23.5m from charitable bodies.
By focusing our combined efforts over the past 12 years, we've shown what can be achieved when we collaborate - both within the university and with local and international partners - in pursuit of a common goal.
The next five years will be just as crucial. We are developing our new Institute of Health Sciences campus at Queen's - an £85m investment that will bring major research areas onto one campus.
We are continuing to drive forward a number of high-quality cancer programmes. We are building clinical and scientific research teams who are translating the work taking place in our laboratories into life-changing therapies, improvements in quality of life and in healthcare.
In short, our work is helping make the 'Big C' become smaller and, at Queen's University, we will continue to do all we can to erase it altogether.