Dietitian and Lecturer, Dr Aoife Ryan, at the launch of new research from UCC and Breakthrough Cancer Research highlighting common cancer myths amongst Irish men, at the Western Gateway Building, UCC, Western Road, Cork. (Picture: Jim Coughlan)

New research from UCC and Breakthrough Cancer Research highlights common cancer myths amongst Irish men. 

Research released today confirms that many men in Ireland are still unaware of common cancer risks, wrongly believing that the disease can be caused by laptops, injury and tight underwear.

The survey, carried out by researchers at University College Cork (UCC) in association with Breakthrough Cancer Research (Breakthrough), investigated the level of understanding of cancer risk factors amongst Irish males (1). The results of the research have been announced as part of Breakthrough’s #MySmallChange campaign.

Dr Aoife Ryan, Dietitian and Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences in University College Cork and co-author of the research states: “The results of our research show that a significant proportion of Irish males incorrectly believe certain cancer myths, for example between 45% to 52% believed that wearing tight underwear, carrying mobile phones in pockets or extended use of laptop on the lap increased their risk of testicular cancer. We also found that most respondents are concerned about developing cancer but worryingly less than 50% had sought information to help them lower their cancer risk. These findings again highlight the need for straight forward, evidence-based information about cancer and risk factors.”

The survey of 913 men in Ireland also found that one third of respondents wrongly blamed eating dairy as a cancer risk, with 44% incorrectly believing supplements would protect against cancer.

On a positive note, only 8% incorrectly believed that if there was a history of cancer in the family there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

Worryingly Irish men still seem to underestimate alcohol as a risk factor in developing cancer, with 66% incorrectly believing that red wine protects against cancer

Dr Ryan continues: “Worryingly Irish men still seem to underestimate alcohol as a risk factor in developing cancer, with 66% incorrectly believing that red wine protects against cancer. At a time when the World Cancer Research Fund has warned that the claimed benefits of drinking red wine for heart health are less than previously thought and are outweighed by the harmful effect alcohol has on cancer risk, it is important that we understand the role alcohol plays in increasing our cancer risk.”

“While most men surveyed were aware of classic cancer risk factors, such as smoking and poor diet, there are still a lot of misconceptions that must to be tackled. 95% correctly identified regular activity as a protective factor, yet less than half of respondents believed obesity is a risk factor. The results of this research show that there remains a need for people to become more cancer curious and arm themselves with the information they need to lower their cancer risk. As proven by the World Cancer Research Fund, small changes in our lifestyle can make a big difference to our cancer risk but most importantly these changes are within our control,” Dr Ryan concludes.

The concept of small changes making a big difference is supported by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) with Áine Lyng, Cancer Prevention Manager at the NCCP, stating: “The National Cancer Control Programme is working towards supporting our nation to reduce their risk of developing cancer, 30 – 40% of cancers can be prevented through lifestyle. This important research conducted by Breakthrough Cancer Research highlights the need to promote the World Cancer Research Fund lifestyle recommendations to reduce cancer risk and for each of us to use this information to make one small change to reduce our risk of developing cancer”

As part of their #MySmallChange campaign, which began in February, Breakthrough are highlighting the eight small lifestyle changes recommended by the World Cancer Research Fund that can help lower the risk of developing cancer risk. The campaign aims to inform people about the correct evidence-based lifestyle activities that impact the risk of developing cancer. The eight key recommendations are:

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
  3. Limit consumption of high calorie foods and avoid sugary drinks
  4. Eat more grains, vegetables, fruit and beans
  5. Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats
  6. Limit alcohol consumption
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt
  8. For cancer prevention, don’t rely on supplements