Cancer rates in Cobh: a statement from the National Cancer Registry

In light of recent media reports on cancer rates in Cobh, this is a repost of our 2011 statement.

Recent media coverage has interpreted information from the National Cancer Registry as suggesting a link between cancer rates in Cobh, Co. Cork and a former steel plant on Haulbowline Island, near the town. The Registry does not believe that this interpretation is correct, for a number of reasons.

  • Although cancer risks in Cobh for some cancers are above the national average, half of the areas in the country will always be above average, and this is meaningless in itself;
  • Cancer rates in Cobh are not exceptional when compared to similar towns. Many towns in Ireland have higher cancer rates, with no suggestion of external factors;
  • While the risks of some cancers in Cobh are above average, the risk of many others is below average. Selective reporting of the high rates only serves to cause unnecessary worry to residents;
  • As cancers take 15 to 20 years to develop, it is impossible to link recent exposures to current cancer risk or changes in risk.
  • No exposure has been identified which could cause an increase in the risk of such a wide range of cancers as has been suggested for Cobh—cancers of the lung and prostate, for instance, have no risk factors in common—and cancer risk to the population of Cobh is caused by a combination of many factors. These factors are well known and mostly related to behaviour or lifestyle—for instance smoking, diet, exercise, alcohol—and the cancer data shows that the population of Cobh is similar to that of towns of similar size in these characteristics.

The National Cancer Registry is an independent body which continuously monitors cancer rates and risks to the Irish population. The information is freely available for people to study and draw their own conclusions, and we have recently published an atlas of cancer risk for the whole island of Ireland. This shows that cancer risk varies by area, but not in any consistent way for different cancers, and that there are no cancer “blackspots” with increased risk for all cancers.

About the National Cancer Registry

The National Cancer Registry was established by the Minister for Health in 1991. It was set up by statutory instrument and is funded by the Department of Health and Children in the Republic of Ireland. More information can be found at


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