Speech for the Launch of the Irish Cancer Society´s Men´s Cancer Awareness Week

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here with you today to launch the inaugural Irish Cancer Society´s Men´s Cancer Awareness Week. The Irish Cancer Society is the national charity for cancer care which aims to reduce the growing incidence of cancer in Irish society. The Irish Cancer Society works in partnership with the Health Promotion Unit of my Department to advocate for healthier public policy; in developing health promotion programmes with communities and workplaces and in undertaking regular public information and awareness campaigns that focus on cancer prevention, risk reduction and early detection.

Men´s Cancer Action Week

Men´s Cancer Action Week is one such health promotion campaign which has been developed by the Irish Cancer Society. Men in Ireland die, on average 6 years younger than women do and have higher death rates at all ages, and for all leading causes of death. Life expectancy for men in Ireland at 65 is the lowest in the E.U. Overall, men and woman have similar risks of developing cancer, although men are more likely to die from it. It is well documented that compared to women, men have limited contact with their G.P.´s, are reluctant to access primary care services, and often present much later in the course of an illness. The aim of Men´s Cancer Action Week is to

  • raise awareness of the incidence of cancer amongst men across all age and soci-economic groups,
  • highlight the need for men to take certain steps that can reduce their risk of these cancers and simultaneously lead to a healthy life-style and
  • promote earlier detection of cancer by increasing men´s knowledge of symptoms and by encouraging more men to make better use of preventative and primary care services at an earlier stage.

The campaign will focus on the four most common cancers in men: prostate, colo-rectal (bowel), lung, skin and testicular cancer. Deaths from lung, prostate and bowel cancer account for almost half of all male cancer deaths.

A Men´s Health Policy

The National Health Strategy calls for a policy on men´s health and health promotion to be developed. The National Health Promotion Strategy 2000-2005 also identified the development of a national plan for men´s health as an important initiative. I am pleased to say the work has commenced on the development of this policy in association with the relevant stakeholders.

Interest in Men´s Health to date has tended to be on “male specific” conditions and increased emphasis on men´s health in the wider context is now needed. Men and Women are at similar risk of developing cancer but men are more likely to die from cancer because it is believed that they do not make as much use of preventative and primary healthcare services and therefore only present to the medical profession later in the course of an illness.

In this regard the Health Promotion Unit of my Department has supported the appointment of a Men´s Health Research Officer in the South Eastern Health Board to research the role of gender and masculinities on Irish men´s concept of health, their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to health and illness, health behaviours and risk behaviours, and the barriers that Irish men perceive in accessing the health services. The findings of this research will inform the development of the new men´s health policy


The impact and cost of cancer to our society is significant. We know from the latest National Cancer Registry Report, “Cancer in Ireland 1994-2002: Incidence, Mortality, Treatment and Survival” that:

  • Over 21,000 Irish people will develop cancer this year and 7,800 will die of the disease.
  • The commonest cancers are those of skin, breast, colon, prostate and lung.
  • Cancer numbers are increasing by about 1.5% every year, mainly due to growth in our population.
  • Cancer causes one-quarter of all deaths in Ireland and is the largest single cause of death for the Irish population.
  • While cancer can affect all ages, it is most prevalent in the over-65s. The significance of this is heightened by the fact that ours is an ageing population.
  • The incidence rates of prostate cancer in men in all age groups showed statistically significant increases. The rate of increase between 1994 and 2002 was 5 per cent. In 2002, 1571 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and 540 died from the disease.
  • It is important to note that while the incidence rates from prostate cancer are increasing the mortality rates are not increasing at the same level. This divergence between incidence and mortality rates may be due to better case-finding, more incidental diagnoses or a genuine increase in survival.

National Cancer Strategy Investment

There has been considerable progress in the fight against cancer nationally. Since 1997, there has been a cumulative investment of approximately €400 million in the development of cancer services.

The benefit of this investment can be seen in a number of areas, including the appointment of eighty-seven new Medical Consultants, together with support staff, in key areas such as medical oncology, histopathology, radiology and haematology, together with support staff.

The control of cancer can only be effective if it is planned in a systematic and integrated manner. Cancer control is multi-national, multi-disciplinary and involves both Government and non-Government organisations. The key elements of an effective cancer control strategy are prevention, screening (where appropriate), early detection, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and support.

New National Cancer Strategy

In relation to the future development of cancer services in Ireland, the National Health Strategy identified the need for the preparation of a new National Cancer Strategy. The National Cancer Strategy is currently being developed by the National Cancer Forum in conjunction with my Department. The Strategy will set out the key priorities for the development of cancer services and will make recommendations in relation to the organisation of cancer services nationally.


As part of this work, a Sub-Group of the National Cancer Forum has been established on Generic Screening. This multi-disciplinary Group has reviewed all issues relating to screening, including examining specific diseases such as prostate and colorectal cancer. In relation to screening for prostate cancer in particular, the Group recommended that there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the introduction of a population-based prostate screening programme in this country. The Group recommended that this issue should be reassessed when the results are available from international randomised trials currently being conducted. The Group´s recommendations will inform the development of the new National Cancer Strategy.


Clearly there is a need to increase awareness among men in Ireland of the need for cancer prevention and early detection. The Men´s Cancer Action week is a very positive step in fulfilling this need and I am delighted to support the Society’s continued dedication to the elimination of cancer as a major health problem.