Cancer death rate in Mulhuddart ‘nearly three times’ higher than Castleknock

Irish Cancer Society researcher says biggest cancer risk factor is ‘living longer’

Dr Robert O’Connor tackled nine major cancer ‘myths’during talk.

Dr Robert O’Connor tackled nine major cancer ‘myths’during talk.


The cancer death rate in two west Dublin communities is nearly three times higher in one than the other, the head of research at the Irish Cancer Society has said.

Dr Robert O’Connor was speaking at a public talk at University of Limerick on Wednesday night where he debunked some of the myths around cancer, along with providing some “startling” home truths such as the difference in cancer death rates in Dublin 15.

“The death rate from cancer in Mulhuddart is nearly three times that in Castleknock, and they’re geographically beside each other, and they have very similar overall (treatment) facilities,” Dr O’Connor said.

He also tackled nine major cancer “myths”,from wearing cancer-causing tight underwear to eating juicy berries for a cure.

The first was that “modern life is toxic and causes cancer”.

“I want to debunk the myth that everything in our environment is causing cancer – that isn’t true,” he said. “People need to realise that we now enjoy the healthiest existence that mankind has ever in his evolution enjoyed.”

He said that “there are presently 150,000 cancer survivors in Ireland”, and the biggest contributing risk factor to getting cancer is “living longer”.

“Mankind has always had cancer, and it’s a fact that as we live longer there is a greater risk of developing any form of cancer.”

‘Listen to the professionals’

Dr O’Connor advised people to “listen to the professionals” instead of the “various celebrities that are hawking whatever quack diet that might be flavour of the month for them”.

There is, he says, a “miscommunication” of messages constantly circulating about cancer. The good news is we are living longer — the bad news is our genes have made us predisposed to getting cancer, and the risk increases the longer we walk the earth, he said.

“I want to help people to recognise that everybody is born with a particular cancer risk that there is very little that they can do about, because that’s in their genes,” Dr O’Connor explains. “But there is a lot they can do to tinker with that risk.”

Dr O’Connor said that “cancer is extremely rare in children and it’s rare in young people”.

Debunking the myth that it is always fatal, Dr O’Connor said, “It varies on the type of cancer, but modern treatments now mean that more than one in two Irish patients diagnosed today will be cured of their disease.”

Irish males

Despite advances in medicine and technology, Irish males seem to be dragging themselves back into the dark ages, Dr O’Connor said.

“Early detection can mean that a cancer is caught when its curable rather than when it’s left lie for months or years, where it becomes much more difficult to treat. We’ve great programmes in Ireland in terms of bowel cancer screening, cervical, and breast cancer screening. But, in the case of bowel cancer, only a third of Irish men actually take up the free offer of bowel cancer screening, so these are things that people can do.”

Smoking, not exercising, sunbathing without applying sun cream, are all obvious risk contributors, but as Dr O’Connor explains, by simply doing the opposite to this can “reduce your risk”.

Nine “myths” about cancer, according to Dr Robert O’Connor

1 – Modern life

“That modern life is toxic and causing cancer and that modern life and the things in our environment are causing cancers – it’s not. Mankind has always had cancer and it’s a fact that as we live longer there is a greater risk of developing any form of cancer.”

2 – Magic Bullet

“That somewhere there is a magic bullet for cancer. That isn’t true because cancer isn’t a single disease so there’ll never be a single treatment. Cancer cells are very similar to normal cells, so it’s very difficult to find something that can target a unique aspect of the cancer cell when it is ultimately a cell from the body. So, the fact is that there isn’t a magic bullet, there is isn’t a single cure, because cancer is literally hundreds of different diseases. It can be very different in terms of whether it presents early in Stage One, or if it presents in Stage Four, and will have spread more widely.”

3 – Pharma Industry

“That Pharma has hidden the cure for cancer and is keeping it to make money. That certainly isn’t true except if you think that some of the vaccines that have been developed, like HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines prevent significant causes of cancer.”

4 – Tight clothes

“Some people claim that tight (fitting) clothes, tight underwear, tight bras, cause breast and testicular cancer - that is simply not true. You might have heard about bras causing breast cancer - that’s a complete myth, and can cause a lot of distress in cancer patients.”

5 – Superfoods

“There’s no such thing, they’ve no relevance in terms of preventing or treating cancer.”

6 – Quacks and celebrities

“We’ve a lot of quacks and celebrities out there advocating certain diets to either prevent, treat, or cure cancer. Things like the alkaline diet and the keto diet can be hugely damaging to (cancer) patients, and we would urge people to get professional advice from a dietician, an oncologist, or a GP, around these things. They’ll realise that actually these things have no benefit and actually can compromise (cancer) treatment in some cases.”

7 – Sugar

“Some people talk about cancer being caused by sugar. Sugar does not cause cancer, albeit if people take in too much sugar they can clearly be at risk of obesity, and we do know that obesity can be a contributor to an increased cancer risk, so people do need to watch what they eat.”

8 – Fear

“That cancer is always fatal and there’s no point in doing anything - that isn’t true because our numbers show that more than one in two are cured of their disease.”

9 – Stress

“Most people think that stress causes cancer. But, actually, there is no evidence that it does.”