THE health gap between rich and poor in Ireland is leading to starkly higher rates of cancers in many deprived communities.
Cancer-related deaths in some socially disadvantaged areas in Ireland are double those of more affluent districts, according to John Kennedy, chairman of the Irish Cancer Society.
He revealed that:
* Head and neck cancers are 1.7 times higher in the poorest areas compared with better-off communities.
* Men in areas with the poorest education levels have a 32pc greater risk of lung cancer.
* Women are worst hit by lung cancer if they live in an area with large numbers of jobless, poor education levels and a high proportion of elderly living alone.
* Stomach cancer is 1.4 times higher in socially deprived areas.
Dr Kennedy said that while there was a lot more awareness of what we should be doing to cut cancer risks with lifestyle changes, the message on smoking, diet and drinking must be delivered to poorer communities in a new and practical way.
The Irish Cancer Society, which will today launch its five-year strategy entitled Towards a Future Without Cancer, said one of its top aims was to try to close the rich-poor gap.
"The society is going to extend its reach into those communities with high cancer incidence and poorer survival rates.
"We are going to work with individuals and organisations from the ground up to find new ways of empowering people to reduce their risk of cancer. We want to work with communities so that they can take ownership and control of their own health futures," said Dr Kennedy, a cancer specialist in St James's Hospital, Dublin.
"A lot is now known about how a person can avoid cancer, but we need to get this information across better. As a nation, we are smoking and drinking too much, are overweight and not taking enough exercise. Changing our habits can cut our cancer rate over time and we will be showing how.
"Despite the strides made in cancer diagnosis and treatment in the last few decades, Ireland has become a very unequal society when it comes to health problems, particularly cancer and access to healthcare.''
Dr Kennedy said Ireland's rate of survival for ovarian, breast, lung and colorectal cancers lagged behind Canada, Australia and Sweden.
The Cancer Society, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, generates an annual income of €20m, of which 95pc comes from fundraising.