You are here

Cancer risk factors and screening among Inuit in Ontario and other Canadian regions

TitleCancer risk factors and screening among Inuit in Ontario and other Canadian regions
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsLeBlanc, J., Lund C., Zizman P., Cawley C., Mazereeuw M., Hizaka A., Rand M., Jamal S., Sheppard A., and Marrett L.
InstitutionCancer Care Ontario
CityToronto, ON

This report was developed as a tool for highlighting the cancer burden among Inuit populations in Ontario and other Canadian regions. It provides the first-ever consolidated description of cancer risk factors and screening in Inuit populations, particularly in southern regions of Canada, with an emphasis on relevant historical and geographical contexts. Its intention is to begin to mobilize evidence that will help Inuit improve their health status and achieve improved security in accessing the healthcare system wherever they live. Together, Tungasuvvingat Inuit and the Aboriginal Cancer Control Unit of Cancer Care Ontario not only compiled statistical estimates, but also prioritized the inclusion of information that illustrates the cultural and historical experience of Inuit. Two companion materials were created to bring attention to Inuit-specific determinants of health: a timeline that depicts several key historical and contemporary events and an Inuit Nunangat medical travel map that shows where primary care and specialized care services are located. Inuit are one of the fastest growing and youngest sub-populations in Canada. In 2011, 59,460 people identified as Inuit. Almost three-quarters of Inuit lived in Inuit Nunangat, which consists of the western edge of the Northwest Territories (the Inuvialuit Settlement Region), the territory of Nunavut, northern Quebec (Nunavik) and northeastern Labrador (Nunatsiavut). The remaining 27 percent that lived elsewhere showed a five percent population increase since the 2006 census. With the growing sub-Arctic, rural and urban Inuit populations, now is the time to anticipate health and wellness needs, and proactively plan to accommodate them. There are many factors that can influence the risk of developing cancer and the likelihood of surviving it. Certain lifestyle and behavioural risk factors, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, can negatively influence cancer outcomes. Inuit living in and outside of Nunangat are using and being exposed to tobacco at a greater rate than non-Aboriginal people living in Ontario, which has implications for greater future burden of tobacco-related cancers. Research already shows that Inuit in the Arctic have the highest rates of lung cancer in the world, which means it is essential to further understand tobacco patterns in northern and southern Inuit regions, and to implement meaningful health interventions and coordinated efforts at the municipal, provincial and territorial levels. Some lifestyle and behavioural factors can reduce potential cancer burden. For example, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active can reduce one's risk of developing cancer. Country food (i.e., traditional food) is also an important component of a healthy diet for Inuit. However, access and affordability of country foods has become a widespread challenge for Inuit and the prevalence of food security is low for Inuit across Canada. Efforts are urgently needed to understand and address these challenges. Participation in cancer screening programs is another way to reduce potential cancer burden. Screening can find cancer before it develops or find it earlier (depending on the cancer type), which can lead to reduced cancer mortality (deaths) and improved survival. Evidence strongly supports regularly screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer among people in specific age ranges with no cancer symptoms. However, this report reveals gaps in cancer screening participation among Inuit populations. For example, more Inuit in the north are overdue for colorectal screening than the national average. Furthermore, although information on cancer screening in Inuit living in southern Canada is scarce, there is some evidence to suggest that Inuit living in Ontario are less likely to get screened for colorectal cancer. Recent data also suggest that cervical screening participation has improved for Inuit living in northern and southern Canada despite their relatively high rates of cervical cancer incidence (new cases), nevertheless little is known about the efficiency of follow-up of abnormal tests and care received. These examples speak to the need for more or different strategies to improve and maintain cancer screening participation in Inuit populations.

Document URL