A Culturally-Relevant Perspective on This Issue


Cancer is a class of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division and the ability of these cells to invade other tissues, either by direct growth into adjacent tissue (invasion) or by migration of cells to distant sites (metastasis) [1]. Tobacco use, dietary factors, infectious agents, reproductive and sexual factors, and occupation are just a few of the risk factors for various types of cancer. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, cancer is not listed as one of the key health issues for Aboriginals, such as Diabetes or HIV/AIDS. As a result, there is minimal data on cancer in Aboriginal communities and even more limited information on cancer rates among Aboriginal women.

First Nations

Although the overall cancer rate is lower among the First Nations population, cervical cancer in women is prevalent [2]. Pap testing occurs both less frequently and more irregularly when it does occur among First Nations women in BC [3]. For example, cancer survival rates are low in Saskatchewan for the First Nations population and this is thought to be related to diagnosis occurring at later stages of cancer [2]. According to the Health Council of Canada, breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among First Nations women in 1999 [4].


Data on cancer prevalence in the Métis population is very scarce. Data from the 2006 Métis Nation British Columbia Provincial Survey reported that approximately 18% of Métis individuals report that at least one person in their household had cancer (compared to arthritis 54%) [3]. In the North West Territories, trachea, bronchus, and lung cancer account for 27% of all cancer-related deaths among Métis women [4].


Approximately 2.8% of Inuit women suffer from some type of cancer compared to 1.5% of Inuit men. Historically, the Inuit population has experienced higher rates of cancers that are rare in the general population (nasopharyngeal, salivary gland, esophageal) possibly related to the use of smokeless tobacco products. However, cancers that are more common in the general population, such as lung, colon, cervix, and breast cancers are lower in the Inuit population [2]. The traditional Inuit diet has largely been replaced by store-bought food, which is high saturated fat and low in both Vitamin A and fibre content and may contribute to overall cancer incidence. In Nunavut, fewer women die from breast cancer (11.9/100,000) compared to the rest of Canadian women (25.2/100,000), but the lung cancer mortality rate for women was 5.3 times higher compared to the Canadian population [4].