Men’s health: Ireland has EU’s highest rate of prostate cancer

Research also highlights how only one third of men are not overweight or obese

Ireland has the highest rate of prostate cancer in the EU with cases surging by almost 220 per cent in the last 25 years, according to a new report on men's health published on Thursday.

Two research documents – Men’s Health in Numbers – produced by Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI) contain the results of a year-long research project into virtually every facet of male health from causes of death and illness, to lifestyles and socioeconomic conditions.

Cancer is an obvious headline, but the report shows that in relation to prostate cancer in particular cases in the Republic rose from 1,097 in 1994 to 3,503 this year. In the same period in Northern Ireland, cases jumped from 485 to 1,265.

Although the mortality rate is decreasing and the survival rate increasing in both populations, most likely due to improvements in diagnosis and treatment, the number of cases is expected to continue rising over the next 20 years.


In the Republic, the average age at diagnosis fell from 74 in the mid-90s to 67 years between 2012 and 2014. The proportion of men aged under 55 years at time of diagnosis has quadrupled.

With the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer, the incidence rate for all invasive cancers on the island is higher for men than women. After skin and prostate, the most common forms are colorectal and lung cancers.

On a more positive note, the Republic has seen an increase of 24 per cent in the five year net cancer survival rate for men, which is now higher than for women. Again though, across the island it is predicted the number of cases among men will rise.

Now celebrating its 21st year, MHFI was established in response to the “growing recognition of the need to address the poor health status of males in Ireland”, although it says access to reliable data remains a concern. The layers of comprehensive data included in its two reports are harvested mainly from State sources.

They look at issues that have emerged since 2004 as a result of changing policy; the introduction of screening programmes; increasing concern over specific health issues; and global events such as recession and Covid-19.

Michael Lynch, MHFI chairman, said a number of positive health trends need to be taken in context.

“The number of cases of prostate cancer has increased, the rate of male diagnoses of gonorrhoea and HIV has risen sharply; male obesity and weight is becoming a serious concern,” he said ahead of an online launch on Thursday.

“And Covid-19 is having a major impact upon the lives of men and boys. However, one of the most worrying concerns is that incidence rates of diseases and chronic conditions are, mostly, higher within areas of deprivation.”

Aside from cancer, the main causes of death in men are circulatory system diseases, respiratory system diseases and external causes of injury and poisoning.

However, the report also notes increasing concern around mental health across the island. In the Republic during 2018, 327 men died by suicide compared to 110 women. The number of male suicides was highest between 2009 and 2014, coinciding with the recession.

In the Republic, the rate of men either overweight or obese has risen too, from 63.1 per cent to 66 per cent between 2014 and 2019, meaning just one third of the male population has no weight issue. In Northern Ireland in 2018 and 2019, 68 per cent of men were overweight or obese, as were 27 per cent of boys between the ages of two and 15.

Health in Numbers

Male life expectancy at birth: 80.5.
Male healthy life expectancy: 68.4.
Proportion of men with a disability in 2016: 13.2%.
Homeless men in 2016: 4,018.
Proportion of men at risk of poverty in 2017: 14.7%.
Average number of annual GP visits for men over 15 in 2019: 3.5.
Proportion of men who smoked in 2007: 31%.
In 2019: 19%.
Proportion of men who died of cancer in 2019: 33.1%.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times