:: Suffering from Cancer.? Safer to be a dog..

DOGS suffering from cancer are treated up to 10 times faster than humans, a Sunday Independent investigation has found.

Now opposition TDs and the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) say there is an urgent need for a properly-funded screening programme, which would save many hundreds of lives through early detection.

Dogs, cats and other animals contract cancers in exactly the same way as humans do. But their treatment is fast, efficient and life-saving. Once cancer is suspected by a vet, blood and tissue samples are taken, just as they are in human cases.

And test results for animals are returned in a matter of hours - or days in the worst cases. But official figures show that humans in the Irish health system are often waiting as long as three months for test results to come back.

Defenders of the system say that while so-called "non-urgent" tests, such as smear tests, may take several months to return, urgent cases are handled much faster.

However, that is dependent on the patient being in the hospital system, and in many cases it can take several weeks to secure an appointment.

Susan Barry, a vet with the Anicare Clinic in Glasnevin, Dublin said: "We see our animals at least once a year, so we can check them over for anything suspicious.

"If anything is detected we can have blood tests back within the hour, or in the case of biopsies we get them back within a day or so.

"Worst case scenario is that the bloods are sent away but we would have them back in five working days. We can get the results back so quickly because we do most of the treatment in-house, and there is little or no referral to other clinics." According to the Women and Cancer in Ireland 1994-2001 report, published last week, an average of 6,201 women are diagnosed with cancer each year.

The three commonest cancers were breast, colo-rectal and lung. The number of deaths annually from the disease was 3,474.

The ICS said the waiting times for treatment and test results can not be condoned, and that patients are unduly suffering "agonising and nervous waits" for results to come back. Joan Kelly of the society said: "It is not acceptable that patients are waiting as long as they are for tests, and the fact that we have only one consultant in Ireland handling possible genetic conditions is certainly not good enough."

The ICS said that the introduction of a national screening programme is vital to tackle Ireland's high cancer mortality rates.

Last week, a caller to the Ray d'Arcy radio show said that, following the diagnosis of her mother, aunt and cousin for breast cancer, she and her sister got smear tested and went for genetic tests to assess their risk levels. The sister living in England received her results in less than two weeks, while the Irish patient waited over 12 weeks for her results to come back. She was also told that she would be waiting a year for the results of the hereditary test.

Figures obtained from the NHS in Britain show that average waiting times for smear-test results are a third of what they are here.

Patients receive news within "an ultimate period of one month", compared to a 12-week wait here.

Liam Twomey, health spokesman for Fine Gael, said that after nine years in power, the Government is still struggling to find its way in handling cancer treatment. He said a national screening programme which is adequately resourced is the best way to reduce the numbers dying from cancer every year. He also said that the multi-referral system of patients is slow and inefficient, and needs examining.

"There is no doubt that not enough is being done to deal with cancer treatment in this country. A national screening programme will save lives. Look at the UK where it has been in place for a couple of decades and women there are used to getting checked by a well-funded system that works well," he said.

The Department of Health said: "More than €920m additional cumulative funding has been made available since 1997 for the development of treatment and care services for people with cancer."

Where does the money go '

Into that great Black Hole  of wages, perks, and pensions, called  The National Health Service.!