Cancer rates skyrocketing in Arctic, especially Canada

Heavy tobacco use amoung indigenous populations is blamed for a huge increase in lung cancer and a variety of other cancers. A new international study says Canada’s inuit are among the most at risk anywhere Photo Credit: CBC

Cancer was once a very rare occurrence among indigenous people in the far north. Now almost everyone has experienced a death of a loved one from the disease.

A new international study shows that in the circumpolar region,  rates of cancer have increased dramatically in the period from 1989 to 2008.

It also shows that Inuit are “at extreme risk” for lung and colorectal cancers, as well as some other relatively rare cancers.

The study was published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, and entitled “Cancer among circumpolar populations: an emerging public health concern”

Age-standardized incidence rates of lung cancer among men in the Arctic States and their northern regions, 2000–2009. Female graph shows very similar resultsNote: AO=autonomous okrug. All 8 Arctic States (in capital letters) and most of their northern regions are included in the chart – blue refer to Russia and its northern regions, yellow to the Nordic countries and their northern regions, red to Canada and USA and their northern regions, and green to Greenland. © Kue Young, Kai Wong, et al

The study involved researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in Canada, the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, USA; the Department of Clinical Oncology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, in Finland

Much of the problem appears to be due to a very high rate of smoking, which is several times higher than the smoking rate in southern areas.

Statistics Canada puts the rate at over 62 percent in Nunavut, and 60 percent among the Dene of the Northwest Territories, while the national average of Canada is now down around 18 percent.

Poster showing historic photo of an Inuit woman and baby alongside a current photo of an Inuit woman and baby. For the past five years, the territory has been working on campaigns about the harms of tobacco. Pregnant women and new mothers are some of their key targets. © Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC

A recent survey found for example that nine out of ten pregnant women in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut smoke in spite of clear warnings of the health danger to themselves and unborn children.

Quoted in the National Post newspaper Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization says, ““Smoking provides huge challenges to our health system, and it has huge societal impacts”.

Vikki Amaaq started smoking at age 11, Smoked during her first pregnancy and is now pregnant with her second child. She said that in her home community of Igloolik, it’s normal for pregnant women to smoke. She smokes approximately 12 cigarettes a day © Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC

The report concludes that “from a global perspective, the circumpolar Inuit and Athabaskan/Dene have rates for several cancer sites that exceed all other regions in the world. An increasing trend is also evident, and represents a change from a few decades ago when the risk of cancer was generally below that of non-indigenous populations in the same region.”

Additional information-sources

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

With a passion for anything antique with an engine, and for Canadian and world history, Marc comes with a wealth of media experience. After DJ work at private radio in southern Ontario, and with experience in Canadian Forces radio and tv in Europe, the state broadcaster in Austria (Radio 3), and the CBC in Ottawa and Montreal, he was the host of the immensely popular CBC and RCI show, "The Link". He is now part of the new RCI online team producing stories from and about Canada from coast to coast.

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