National Screening Service welcomes publication of the National Cancer Registry Ireland cancer trends report showing positive impacts of cancer screening programmes

The National Screening Service (NSS) today, (Thursday, 22rd September 2022), welcomes the publication of the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI) report - Breast, cervical and colorectal cancer 1994-2019: National trends for cancers with population-based screening programmes in Ireland.

The report details for the first time the positive impact of BowelScreen, BreastCheck and CervicalCheck on cancer detection in Ireland. There has been a noticeable increase in earlier diagnosis and a demonstrable reduction in mortality.

The overall key findings show:

  • Cancers detected via screening were, on average, found at a much earlier stage in the screening age group than in the non-screening group
  • Decreases in mortality for the three cancers were, in general, more substantial in the age-groups eligible for screening
  • Survival is now higher and has improved more markedly in the screening age groups for all three cancers
  • Population cancer screening in Ireland is effective.

The trends for each programme detailed in the report reveal in more depth the positive outcome(s) of screening on each individual cancer type.

Cervical Check

CervicalCheck was introduced in 2008 and now uses HPV testing as the primary screening test to screen women aged between 25-65 years for cervical cancer.

  • Overall, the rates of cervical cancer have shown a significant decreasing trend of 2.8% per year since 2009 following the introduction of screening, reversing the previous trend of a significant increase from 1999 to 2009.
  • The proportion of cases diagnosed with early-stage cancers (Stage 1 and Stage 2) is much higher in women in the screening age group (88%) than in the non-screening group (52%)
  • There has been a significant decreasing trend in mortality by on average 1.1% per year over the 1994-2019 period.


BowelScreen was introduced in 2012 and offers free at-home screening (FIT test) for bowel cancer men and women aged from 60-69.

  • Overall, the rates of colorectal cancer in men have shown a significant downward trend of 2.5% per year following the introduction of screening, with a smaller but still decreasing trend (0.3% per year) in women since 1994.
  • The proportion of cases diagnosed with early-stage cancers (Stage 1 and Stage 2) is much higher in screened men (64%) and women (62%) compared to non-screened age groups of men (37%) and women (39%)
  • There has been a significant decreasing trend in mortality over the 1994-2019 period and particularly noticeable in the 70+ year male age group (3.7% per year since 2011).


BreastCheck began screening for breast cancer in the eastern half of the country in 2000 and then extended nationally from 2007. Screening was offered initially every two years to women aged 50 to 64 years, with an extension of the age eligibility to 69 years starting in 2015.

  • The trends in incidence show what would be expected following the introduction/ expansion of a screening programme
  • The proportion of women in diagnosed with early stage cancers (stage 1 and stage 2) is higher (93%) in women in the screened age group compared to the non-screened age groups of <50 (78%) and > 70 years (75%).
  • Mortality rates show a significant decreasing trend (by on average 1.8% per annum).

Fiona Murphy, NSS Chief Executive said: “The NCRI report is the first of its kind to analyse the impact of population screening programmes on cancer trends in Ireland. It is agreed that since the 1990s there has been a collective improvement in better awareness of cancer symptoms, new treatments, improvements in care and changes in underlying risks for cancer which have all had a positive impact on improved survival. However, with the publication of this report and the detailed analysis of the various screened populations we can now confidently say that a portion of that improvement is directly attributable to CervicalCheck, BowelScreen and BreastCheck. The public can be reassured that our screening programmes are effective.

“I am particularly struck by the greater proportion of cancers identified by screening in 2014-2018 that were diagnosed early.  This is called stage-shift. Finding cancers earlier gives people the best chance of less-invasive and aggressive treatments and better outcomes.

"There is no doubt that screening is an important part of our health service. While the programmes cannot prevent every single cancer I would urge everyone to register and to take up their invitation to take part when invited. It could save your life.”

Last updated on: 22 / 09 / 2022