New National Cancer Strategy focused on prevention and early diagnosis

Simon Harris says the 10-year plan will "absolutely require substantial current and capital funding"

New National Cancer Strategy focused on prevention and early diagnosis

Health Minister launches new National Cancer Strategy. Image: Juliette Gash

The new cancer strategy has been unveiled, in a bid to reduce cancer rates in the next ten years.

Bowel and breast screening will be extended, and the push to make Ireland tobacco-free by 2025 continues.

Almost 21,000 people are told they have cancer each year – and with Ireland's ageing population, that figure is set to double by 2037.

However, it is believed that up to 40% of cases are avoidable with lifestyle changes, and the new plan is expected to focus on prevention.

While the number of deaths attributed to cancer has risen to 30%, there are 150,000 cancer survivors living in Ireland today.

The new strategy is predicted to cost up to €2 billion to implement over the next decade.

It puts forward four main goals: to reduce the cancer burden; provide optimal care; maximise patient involvement and quality of life; and enable and assure change.

Key recommendations include a designated facility for adolescents & young adults with cancer in the new children's hospital, and strengthened links between cancer services.

Health Minister Simon Harris says he expects to spend €140 million a year, not including the cost of drugs.

He said: "Implementation of this strategy will absolutely require substantial current and capital funding over the coming ten years - but quite frankly we cannot afford not to do this.

"It's my intention to seek to ensure and secure the necessary funding on an incremental basis through the annual estimates process."

He added: “If we are to reach our targets then early diagnosis of cancer is vital. Cancer screening plays a crucial role in reducing the treatment interventions needed and in achieving successful outcomes."

This is the third major cancer strategy, and the HSE's director general Tony O'Brien says his organisation will focus on "evolving our services,  developing new initiatives, enhancing clinical research and to further improve quality, treatment outcomes and survivorship for Irish cancer patients".

Earlier, Paul Cullen - Health Correspondent with the Irish Times - spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the new plan.

He observed: "There's a new emphasis on survivorship, as it's called. Because survival rates are increasing, more people are living with cancer [...] and that presents its own challenges.

"The rapidly increasing cost of medicine will be one of the big challenges over the next decade."

He added: "Our survival rates are still lagging behind other European countries for many cancers. There's a way to go, and the concern would be that enough resources are being provided.

"This strategy [could] get us up there beyond the European averages."