Potential barriers to prevention of cancers and to early cancer detection among Irish people living in Britain: a qualitative study

Ethn Health. 2006 Aug;11(3):325-41. doi: 10.1080/13557850600628307.


Objectives: To identify and explore explanatory models of cancer among Irish and white British people living in Britain.

Methods: Ethnographic in-depth interviews and focus groups were conducted in London, Manchester and Glasgow, with a total of 58 (n = 58) Irish and 57 (n = 57) white British participants. The study samples were broadly similar in socio-demographic characteristics.

Results: We explored explanatory models (lay beliefs) used by the Irish and white British to understand their cancer-related beliefs and behaviours. Among both groups there was confusion about causation, poor knowledge of signs and symptoms, and a general pessimism about cancer prevention and treatments. The narratives of the Irish were, however, qualitatively different from those of the white British. Historical, cultural, social and economic circumstances, both in the UK and in the past in Ireland, appeared to influence views of cancer and health-seeking behaviours. Recollections of negative family experiences of cancers linked to 'stigma' and 'secrecy', poor outcomes and medical practices in rural Ireland, particularly among the older Irish, influenced Irish understanding of cancers and help-seeking behaviours. The second generation also appeared to retain some beliefs that were common amongst the first generation migrants. The context of migration was also felt by the Irish group to have exposed them to living and working environments that made them susceptible to cancers.

Conclusion: The Irish frame of reference was firmly embedded in a specific historical, social and economic context which may contribute to cultural constraints on discussions about cancers and to the lack of engagement with preventative behaviours and health care services.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Ireland / ethnology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology