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National Cancer Registry

Three out of 10 cancers in Ireland are 'potentially preventable through lifestyle changes'

That’s according to a new report published by the National Cancer Registry.

THREE OUT OF 10 cancers in Ireland are potentially preventable through lifestyle changes, according to new research

The report, published by the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) today, shows that about 6,200 newly diagnosed cancer cases in Ireland in 2016 alone were attributable to the 11 modifiable risk factors examined.

The report indicates that, just among these factors, 29% of cancer incidence in Ireland was potentially preventable. This relates to three in 10 of all invasive cancer cases, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, being attributable specifically to the sum of the risk factors in question.

Smoking, being overweight or obese and infections were the top three modifiable risk factors for cancer in Ireland, together accounting for about one in five (21%) of all cancer cases.

About 2,800 cancer diagnoses in 2016, 13% or about one-eighth of overall cancer cases, were attributable to smoking, including passive smoking.

“By 2035, assuming these risk estimates continue to apply, it is estimated that about 4,700 cases of invasive cancer per year will be attributable to smoking,” the report notes.

Screenshot 2020-10-06 at 12.28.41 The 11 risk factors analysed in the study. NCRI NCRI

Lung cancer had the highest number of cases attributable to lifestyle risk factors that can be modified in both males and females, followed by colon cancer in males and breast cancer in females.

Over a 10-year period ending in 2035, it is estimated that three of those factors alone — smoking, overweight and obesity, and alcohol consumption — will be responsible for about 66,000 cancer cases in Ireland.


The report notes that the figure of 29% is likely “an underestimate of preventable cancer in Ireland”.

“The risk associated with occupation was not accounted for here and should be examined in future research. In the UK, 3.8% of cancer cases were attributable to occupation-related risk.

“Additionally, everyday exposure to ultraviolet radiation was not included, only sunburn history and sunbed usage,” the report states.

In a statement, the National Cancer Registry said the findings in this report should be used for planning future health policy.

The NCRI said it is “essential that measures are undertaken and continued, especially at a population level, to help ensure that the possible increases in cancer cases in the future modelled in this analysis do not become a reality”.

The NCRI added that the economic burden of cancer for the health services, patients and their families, and society at large are “significant”.

“This burden will increase in the coming years as novel, more expensive treatments become available and the number of people living with and beyond cancer increases.”

The NCRI will be compiling a follow-up report estimating the economic burden of cancer in Ireland attributable to modifiable risk factors.

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