A new report today revealed that survival rates for women and men in age groups who qualify for free breast, cervical and bowel cancer screening have improved significantly more than the general population.
The report states that approximately a third of women diagnosed with cervical cancer and a quarter of female breast cancer cases from 2017 to 2019 were detected as a result of the national CervicalCheck or BreastCheck screening programs. A lower percentage of colorectal cancers (6 pieces) were detected by BowelScreen.
Screen-detected cancers were, on average, captured earlier, and while overall mortality rates for all three cancers decreased significantly in the population, the decline in the age groups targeted for screening was more significant.
The report from the National Cancer Registry covering the period 1994 to 2019 is the first to examine the potential impact of three population screening programs that began at different times since 2000.
Survival was significantly higher and improved in the age groups eligible for free screening for all three cancers.
But improvement was also seen in the younger and older age groups, who did not qualify for screening in both breast and colorectal cancer. They started before the start of the national screening programs.
There was a decrease in mortality rates in all three types of cancer overall but most of these trends started before screening programs were introduced.
This also reflects general improvements in cancer care and treatment, and cannot be considered merely a result of screening. The report notes similar volume reductions in some of the unscreened age groups.
However, there were generally positive changes in the epidemiology of the three cancers, and there is evidence for additional benefits of screening.
The five-year survival rate for breast cancer increased from 72% in cases diagnosed from 1994 to 1998 to 88% between 2014 and 2018. This was observed in all age groups with the largest number of eligible for screening.
For women diagnosed with cervical cancer, the five-year survival rate increased from 57% between 1994-1998 to 65% in 2014-2018. Among the screening group, it rose from 66 percent to 79 percent.
No significant increase in survival was observed in the women in the post-screening group.
Overall, cervical cancer rates have shown a decrease of 2.8% per year since 2009 after screening was introduced, reversing the previous trend of significantly increasing from 1999 to 2009.
The proportion of cases diagnosed with early-stage cancers is significantly higher in women in the screening age group (88%) than in the unscreened group (52%).
The five-year survival rate for bowel cancer increased from 50 percent in 1994-1999 to 66 percent in 2014-2018. The largest increase occurred in the age groups for examination – an increase of 20%.
However, rates of this cancer in men showed a marked downward trend of 2.5% per year after the introduction of screening, with a lower but still decreasing trend in women since 1994.
It’s now clear that screening programs are having a positive impact on improved survival rates, said Fiona Murphy, CEO of the National Screening Service.