A new study funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council aims to find out why Britain’s Irish population have higher cancer rates than the rest of the country.
Figures show first and second generation Irish have a high incidence for a number of cancers, including stomach, colon and lung cancer, when compared to their English and Welsh counterparts.
But by focusing on the health needs of the Irish and tailoring campaigns for the community, researchers hope to tackle the discrepancies.
Experts think a number of factors may be contributing to the high incidence and death rates seen in the community and specially targeted campaigns that tackle these issues could be beneficial.
Lead researcher Seeromanie Harding, from the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow explains: “Diet and lifestyle differences could be responsible for the disparity in incidence rates. The prevalence of smoking for example, which is a major cause of cancer, is higher in the Irish than amongst others living in England and Wales.”
But lifestyle habits may only be part of the problem. Researchers suspect lack of awareness about the early signs of cancer and gaps in health education may be behind the high death rates – especially since a large number of cancer deaths in the Irish community arise from late stage tumours.
Ms Harding adds: “Very little is known about the health knowledge of the Irish community or their uptake of health care services. Generally the Irish have been grouped with the English and this may have led to a neglect of their health needs. It’s important to address this issue especially in terms of cancer.”
Researchers will select Irish people for the study from three different areas of the UK – London, Manchester and Glasgow – to reflect differences in the history of the Irish migration and regional differences in cancer survival rates.
A comparison group will be selected from the non-Irish white population and will be matched in terms of occupational status, age and gender with the Irish group.
Both study groups will be asked about their beliefs, knowledge and experiences of cancer. Among the questions, people will be asked what they think their risk of cancer is, whether they are aware of the causes and early signs of different cancers, and whether they feel they have good access to health care services.
Researchers will compare the groups’ responses to see how Irish attitudes to cancer differ. They hope to use the information to understand why current health campaigns may be failing to impact on the Irish community and to find new ways to communicate important health messages about cancer.
Ms Harding says: “From the results of the study we should be equipped to adapt or develop new promotional cancer prevention material to reflect the ideas, attitudes and situations commonly experienced by the Irish.”
Jean King, Director of Education Funding at Cancer Research UK says: “There is an urgent need to consider the Irish and other minority groups to improve the availability and quality of health information for them.
“Cultural differences between the Irish and their English, Welsh and Scottish counterparts may mean health campaigns that are successful in one community, may not be apt in another. We need to start tailoring cancer awareness campaigns to make sure important health messages reach everyone irrespective of background, race or religion.”