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Commenting on the launch of the new Cancer strategy, Dermot Breen, Chairman of the Irish Cancer Society has said: “We look forward to the reality of having a cancer system that treats the person, not just the disease”. The number of cases of cancer in Ireland is expected to increase by 50 per cent in men and 40 per cent in women by 2025, and to nearly double by 2040.

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, launched Ireland’s ambitious new ten-year National Cancer Strategy 2017–2026, following its approval by Government on Wednesday 5th July.

Its main focus consists of preventing cancer across our population, diagnosing cancer early, providing optimal care to patients and maximising their quality of life. Mr Breen in particular praised the strategy’s shift in focus from the organisation and establishment of cancer services to the people affected by and living after cancer.

“The Irish Cancer Society strongly supports the Government’s efforts to tackle cancer head on. Ireland now has a world-class cancer infrastructure in place and it is important that we now focus on treating the person, not just the disease.”

He also commended the creation of the role of Lead of Psycho-oncology, emphasizing the importance of psychological support: “The Irish Cancer Society has heard over and over again from cancer patients and their families that, as the word ‘cancer’ is spoken, the person vanishes and a patient and tumour are left behind. “Having the right support, at the right time and from the right people is vital to how people experience and deal with their cancer and life afterwards”.

Mairéad Mangan, the representative of the Cancer Patient Forum, also commented on the importance of mental health support: “Sometimes being a cancer survivor is a very lonely place to be. The involvement of the patient voice in the development of this strategy and its strong focus on survivorship, psycho-oncology and psycho-social services is very encouraging.” While their reception of the scheme was mostly positive, the Irish Cancer Society identified certain areas where the Strategy could go further, for instance, Mr. Breen noted no targets in the National Cancer Strategy around reducing people’s risk of cancer.

“Of the 40,000 cases of cancer that are likely to be diagnosed annually by 2020, four in ten of these could be avoided by a healthy lifestyle. Healthy Ireland’s health promotion policies will specifically impact the cancer rate in Ireland and need firm commitment”.

The Society also highlighted the importance of adequate funding and resourcing: “We would strongly support a ring-fenced fund for cancer drugs, which would provide confidence to patients that when a new treatment becomes available, they can access it. As cancer drugs are part of the reason we speak so optimistically about improved cancer survival rates, it’s important that the Government acts strategically by planning for investment in new treatments.”

According to Oliver O’Connor, Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) CEO, “Long term cancer survival rates are falling significantly, with deaths down by 21% since the 1990s. The use of innovative medicines are clearly playing a significant part in this.

“IPHA enthusiastically shares the goal that we should aim to have Irish cancer survival rates among the best in Europe.  To enable this to happen, the required medicines must be available to patients in the Irish health service among the fastest of European countries. This can be a shared endeavour between industry and Government,” he added.

Minister Harris commented: “Cancer prevention offers the most cost-effective, long-term approach for cancer control. In fact, 30-40 per cent of cancers are avoidable through improved diet, more exercise, reduced alcohol intake, limited exposure to ultraviolet radiation and of course not smoking”. Under the new scheme, BreastCheck, which currently covers women aged 50-64 years of age, will be expanded to women aged 65-69 inclusive, and the expansion of BowelScreen to all aged 55-74 has also been recommended.

Professor John Kennedy, Chairman of the Cancer Strategy Steering Group, described the Strategy as a “blueprint for the further development of cancer services”.