Dementia and cancer in the Irish community in Britain

Author(s): Mary Tilki;  

Corporate author: Irish in Britain

Briefing series: Better Health Briefing Paper 38

Publisher: Race Equality Foundation

Publication date: July 2015


Dementia and cancer in the Irish community in Britain
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The absence of up to date evidence about the Irish community is occasionally noted, but, due to a tendency to define ethnicity in terms of skin colour, policy makers and commissioners generally fail to commission research on this group.  The presumption that the Irish community have the same problems and needs as English people underplays evidence that poor health and limiting long term illness continue into the second and third generation of Irish migrants.  This paper considers the experience of the Irish community in Britain in relation to cancer and dementia, considering the impact of demographic and cultural factors on the prevalence of these conditions and the uptake and appropriateness of treatment.

Key messages

  • Because of the tendency to only view ethnicity in terms of skin colour, health inequalities experienced by the Irish community and persisting into the third generation in Britain are largely invisible. As such, preventive health strategies are neglected and the specific cultural needs of Irish people are rarely considered.  The health of Irish Travellers is among the worst in Britain.
  • As with other black and minority ethnic communities, the Irish lack knowledge about cancer and dementia. Fears about being diagnosed with either make them reluctant to seek help, leading to late access to treatment, often only when a crisis occurs. Cultural beliefs and stigma related to these disorders are among the factors which delay help-seeking. Past experiences of anti-Irish racism and discrimination in health services can be more significant in the unwillingness of older people and their carers to access mainstream services.
  • Understanding social and lifestyle factors, cultural and religious beliefs, experiences of and fears about cancer in the Irish community and partnerships with the Irish third sector could help increase uptake of screening, encourage early diagnosis, improve recovery rates and reduce mortality
  • Providing culturally sensitive care for Irish people with dementia and their carers could improve access to health and social services and reduce late diagnosis. An understanding of Irish culture, migration and settlement, childhood in Ireland, access to Irish music, arts and literature should underpin efforts to develop dementia friendly environments and activities. 


  • The Irish community in Britain
  • Common factors relating to cancer and dementia
  • The Irish migratory experience
  • Cancer and the Irish in Britain 
  • Understanding attitudes to cancer in the Irish community
  • Preventing cancer
  • Dementia and the Irish community
  • Dementia risk and Irish people
  • Culturally appropriate dementia services for Irish people
  • Good practice - Cancer and the Irish in England 
  • Good practice -Dementia and the Irish in England 
  • Conclusion