Press Release

Statement in Response to OECD Report ‘Health at a Glance 2007’ – Survival from Breast Cancer Disease

The Department of Health & Children wishes to clarify certain matters in relation to survival and mortality rates for breast cancer.

Any suggestion that the OECD Report published today shows that survival rates for breast cancer have declined are incorrect.

The OECD Report states that there were 28 deaths from breast cancer per 100,000 women in Ireland in 2004. This figure is not a percentage increase. It is an entirely different measure of breast cancer mortality than relative survival (which is quoted as a percentage). They are not interchangeable or directly comparable.

This report quotes breast cancer survival data which is calculated using a method slightly different to survival data reported by our National Cancer Registry.

The time periods reported for survival are also different (1999-2004 in the OECD Report versus 1998-2001 as reported by our National Cancer Registry). These differences account for the slight differences between the figures in the Report (79.7) and our figures as stated by the Minister for Health & Children in the Dáil last week (78.2).

It is important to note that the OECD Report confirms that survival in Ireland is increasing. In particular, it shows a 6.7% increase in survival rates for the latest measured period (1999-2004: 79.7%) compared with the earlier measured period (1994-1998: 73%).

The most authoritative source of information for comparing survival between countries is Eurocare, the fourth round of which was published earlier this year. Data for Ireland for the Eurocare Report was contributed by our National Cancer Registry.

At present there are approximately 2,500 incident (new) breast cancer cases per year in Ireland. The data quoted in the OECD Report broadly confirms the fact that there is room for improvement in cancer mortality relative to other EU 15 countries- a fact that has already been clearly set out in the Strategy for Cancer Control.

The two most important contributors to improving this pattern will be enhanced access to earlier diagnosis (through screening roll-out) and the implementation of the O’Higgins Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services which will concentrate services in fewer centres and enable the monitoring of quality of these services.

Progress in relation to breast cancer screening and improvements in the concentration and quality of symptomatic breast disease services accounts for the significant improvements in survival that have been reported by the National Cancer Registry. Relative survival for breast cancer improved from 72.9% (for people diagnosed between 1994-1997) to 78.2% (for people diagnosed between 1998 to 2001). This is in line with improvements that have been seen in other developed countries. Improvements have been seen in all regions of the country.