Disruption to healthcare caused by the Covid-19 pandemic continued to negatively impact cancer diagnoses in 2021, according to data published by the National Cancer Registry.

Preliminary data indicates that the number of cancer cases diagnosed in 2021 was 6% lower than projected.

The latest information, which is funded by the Irish Cancer Society, shows the number of cancer cases was down 1,665 cases in 2021.

Pancreatic and kidney cancers appear to have been most significantly impacted by the disruptions that occurred due to Covid-19.

However, colorectal and breast and cervical cancer case numbers - which were the most impacted during 2020 - returned to expected case numbers in 2021.

The Director of Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society Rachel Morrough said today's figures underline the need to significantly reduce waiting times for cancer tests and expand capacity for services.

"The Irish Cancer Society is dismayed that our fears of there being a second year of fewer cancers being diagnosed have been confirmed," she said.

"Cancer never went away during the pandemic but remained undetected due to a range of reasons including putting off seeking medical advice, disruption to health services and possibly death from Covid.

"Until we see data that shows the number of cancers diagnosed have returned to expected levels, the Irish Cancer Society will continue to call for urgent and accelerated measures from Government that get people diagnosed in the first instance and, secondly, that ensure swift access to cancer treatment."

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Ms Morrough said that the pandemic changed people's health behaviours overnight and the charity's research from 2021 showed that people were not seeking medical advice for a "variety of reasons."

She said the reasons "were all really well intentioned", the main ones being that people didn't want to put pressure on the health service; they didn't think their symptoms were classified as urgent enough; the system itself was overburdened.

However, early intervention is "absolutely critical," she said.

Decade before impact seen

Director of the National Cancer Registry Professor Deirdre Murray says it could take 10 years before the full impact of the pandemic on cancer diagnoses is seen.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Prof Murray explained the long-term survival outcomes cannot be predicted and will have to be examined over the next decade.

"The reality is that it takes five years to calculate the impact on survival. And some cancers, such as breast cancer, which have good outcomes at five years, it may be up to 10 years before we see the impact," she said.

Prof Murray urged anyone who is experiencing suspicious symptoms to go to their GP.

The earlier cancer is detected, the better, she said.

Prof Murray pointed out that normal services have resumed and there is no reason for anyone to avoid attending their doctor, adding that it is vital that everyone avails of opportunities to attend screening programmes for cancer.