Since World Cancer Day 2012 was celebrated on February 4 (this past Saturday), I decided to see how the land of my ancestors was faring lately relative to the United States. The initial report that I found about cancer in Ireland was sobering, albeit a bit misleading.
According to a recent Irish Life study that analyzed 2,000 payouts on life cover (insurance) in 2011, 44% were for claims of illness and death due to cancer: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/republic-of-ireland/cancer-caused-44-of-2011-deaths-16113845.html. While the impact of cancer is pervasive throughout the world, this percentage (almost half) of deaths due to cancer seemed quite high. In comparison, according to statistics compiled by the American Cancer Society, cancer accounts for roughly 25% of all deaths in the U.S.: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.20121/pdf. When I delved deeper into cancer statistics at the National Cancer Registry (NCR) of Ireland, I found a similar proportion of the Irish population (1 in4) is dying as a result of cancer: http://www.ncri.ie/pubs/pubfiles/AnnualReport2011.pdf.
The Irish Life study reported in the Belfast Telegraph also indicated that breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers were the biggest cancer killers. “What about lung cancer,” was my initial response. After reviewing the NCR of Ireland’s 2011 report, it’s clear that lung cancer remains the top killer (responsible for 20% of all cancer deaths), the same distinction that it holds in the U.S. Irish women are now dying of lung cancer more frequently than breast cancer, again similar to American women.
The debate continues to rage on about the impact of cancer screening with mammograms for breast cancer and PSA tests for prostate cancer throughout the U.S. and in Ireland. What seems not to be arguable is the devastating impact of lung cancer on both countries. Since roughly 90% of all lung cancers are diagnosed in former or current long-term smokers, the two keys to minimizing deaths from the disease in both Ireland and America are sm0king prevention/cessation for the entire population and CT-based screening for high-risk smokers. If these programs were 100% effective, we could eliminate 18% (90% of 20%) of all cancer deaths in Ireland. While the ideal is not always achievable, we can “shoot for the stars and land on the moon.” That’s not a bad goal!
- Patrick Maguire MD