Lifestyle key to national variations in cancer rates

PEOPLE’S lifestyles are making them more vulnerable to certain cancers, Ireland’s first cancer atlas reveals.

The atlas, published yesterday by the National Cancer Registry, found geographical variations in the incidences of some common cancers.

The examination of cancers diagnosed in Ireland between 1994 and 2003 also looked at known risk factors, including smoking, diet, poverty and the environment.

Regarding the wide variations in cancer risk, Registry director and co-author Dr Harry Comber said: “A lot of that is due to preventable factors, like diet and smoking and being overweight and there are ways we can tackle that.”

The report recommends that “healthy lifestyle” campaigns and initiatives should make clear the links between lifestyle and cancer.

Dr Comber said cancer cases needed to be investigated more at an individual level and interventions developed to reduce the cancer risk.

The study found that the incidence of bowel cancer was quite common in Cork, particularly west Cork.

“That is something we have suspected for quite a while but all we knew was that it was high in the county but it seems to be more concentrated in south-west Cork and Cork city,” he said.

Dr Comber said the incidence of the disease was almost certainly related to diet and would need to be investigated further.

It was also found that stomach cancer was very common in the north east of the country and south Donegal.

Dr Comber said there was a marked difference between the north east and the rest of the country for a disease that was diet-related and preventable.

The study also revealed a higher incidence of skin cancer along the west coast, particularly in Kerry, west Cork, Connemara in Co Galway, and Donegal.

“The incidence of the cancer which is related to sun exposure was high in both men and women in those areas,” he said.

While some of the geographical variation in cancer incidence might be explained by differences in health awareness, screening or access to cancer services, lifestyle remained the chief cause.

“It is generally accepted that it is predominantly the result of differences in well- known risk factors, such as tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, obesity, diet and sexual behaviour,” he pointed out.

“By reducing exposure to risk factors, cancer incidence in Ireland, and the disparities described in this report, could be greatly reduced,” he said.

Dr Comber said some of the patterns of cancer risk in the report could not be explained on the basis what was currently known.

“We recommend a national research programme to explore, at individual level, the relationship of known and suspected risk factors to cancer risk and to search for unknown risk factors.”

There was also a need for more information on how people are being exposed to well-known cancer risk factors and how healthcare is being accessed and used.


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