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Innovation in Oncology 2019

Innovations in oncology – prevention and screening

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Dr Robert O’Connor

Head of Research, Irish Cancer Society

Just 20 years ago – the cusp of the millennium – cancer in Ireland looked very different. Now, we have much to celebrate, but we must be proactive in our approach to cancer.


Two decades ago, four in ten people with cancer in Ireland survived their diagnosis. To the general public, the idea of preventing some cancer cases through vaccination was a distant dream. Cancer screening in Ireland was in its infancy, with breast screening in its early days.

Today, major innovations in oncology have changed all this. Now, six in ten people with cancer in Ireland survive their diagnosis for at least five years.

HPV vaccine is hugely effective

The safe and hugely effective HPV vaccine is saving lives of future generations from HPV-caused cancers. And, despite recent public controversies, our cancer screening services are saving more lives than ever since the expansion into cervical and bowel cancers.

Advances brought about by research empower us with the knowledge to make choices to increase our chances of not getting cancer.

The Irish Cancer Society has been working to spread the benefits of these advances through public awareness since its inception more than 50 years ago. But we’re also the biggest voluntary investor in cancer research in Ireland.

Public donations are so beneficial for research

The generosity of the public allows us to invest in research made vital because there is so much we still don’t know about cancer. Finding those answers is essential to stopping cancer, and as a well-educated and prosperous society, Ireland has the ability and duty to be front-and-centre in this work.

Mention of cancer often brings a sense of fear and foreboding but there is much in our own control to stack the odds in our favour.

Cancer screening saves lives

Screening is life-saving because, by detecting the pre-cancerous changes in our body that we know can lead to cancer, it gives us the chance to stop a cancer before it starts.

As cancer research looks into new ways that screening can save lives from cancer, health systems like Ireland’s, need to be ready to implement new screening tools as quickly as possible.

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Saving an extra 350 lung cancer patients a year

Lung cancer is a case in point. Global research is pointing to CT screening as having the potential to spot lung cancer sooner among at-risk groups, thus potentially saving lives. By examining this research, the Irish Cancer Society believes that more than 350 lives in Ireland every year – effectively one person a day – could be saved by lung cancer screening.

As research in this area continues, we’re asking the government to put the infrastructure in place that can seize on opportunities that innovations in oncology like this can bring. The promised National Screening Committee, recommended in Dr Gabriel Scally’s scoping inquiry into our CervicalCheck programme, should give early consideration to the introduction of lung cancer screening.

As research in the areas of prevention and early detection continue, hopefully more positive advances of potential benefit to patients will be made. Through the National Screening Committee, Ireland has an opportunity to evaluate and seize on these opportunities and ensure as many lives in Ireland are saved thanks to these advances.

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