Dr Colette O'Neill

Researcher in Focus: Dr Colette O’Neill

This month’s researcher in focus is Dr Colette O’Neill. Colette is an epidemiology research fellow at the National Cancer Registry Ireland and is funded by the Irish Cancer Society. Colette completed a degree in nutritional science in UCC, followed by a PhD in the UK on the European NU-AGE project that focused on research relating to nutrition and healthy ageing. Since then Colette has been involved in research on sun exposure with the Cork Centre for Vitamin D and Nutrition Research and has worked as a lecturer in the department of biological sciences at CIT.

The aim of Colette’s current research is to investigate the number of cancers diagnosed each year that are caused by modifiable lifestyle risk factors in Ireland. The number of people diagnosed with cancer each year in Ireland is increasing and is expected to continue to increase for many years. This is partly because our population is aging and older people are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. But it is also partly because some of the causes of cancer are increasingly more common due to changes in the way we live. Many causes of cancer can be avoided through changes in lifestyle such as not smoking, reducing alcohol intake, taking care in the sun or taking part in physical activity. Colette aims to find out how many cancers diagnosed each year are caused by these lifestyle factors, how this will change in the future and how many could be prevented through lifestyle changes. Cancer registry data combined with previous research will be used to produce this information. This will help government and policy-makers to make decisions about planning and prioritising the development of services and campaigns designed to reduce the number of patients diagnosed with cancer by helping the public avoid the causes of cancer. Colette will be producing a report on this work by the end of 2019.

Colette has also been involved in a recently successful HRB conference grant to fund the “1st Annual Irish Cancer Epidemiology Network Symposium 2019” with the aim of increasing cancer epidemiological research activities in Ireland.

Colette’s motivation for working on this research project is to help increase awareness of the risk of various lifestyle risk factors, including obesity and alcohol consumption, and the development of cancer in Ireland. It is common knowledge that smoking is associated with lung cancer but there are many other risk factors associated with cancer that people could avoid. The Irish population could reduce cancer risk by changing certain habits, such as replacing processed meat consumption with healthier alternatives, increasing physical activity and losing a little weight to fall within a healthy BMI.

Colette would like to thank the Irish Cancer Society for funding this important research and all the volunteers and supporters for their contributions to help raise this awareness.

This July Colette is taking part in Marathon in a Month, the Irish Cancer Society’s fundraising campaign that challenges you to complete the distance of a Marathon within the month of July to help cancer patients across Ireland and fund vital research. You can support Colette by donating to her page.

For more information on how to get involved please visit marathoninamonth.cancer.ie