Cancer patterns in Inuit populations

Lancet Oncol. 2008 Sep;9(9):892-900. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(08)70231-6.


Inuit people inhabit the circumpolar region, with most living in Alaska, northwest Canada, and Greenland. Although malignant diseases were believed to be almost non-existent in Inuit populations during the beginning of the 20th century, the increasing life expectancy within these populations showed a distinct pattern, characterised by a high risk of Epstein-Barr virus-associated carcinomas of the nasopharynx and salivary glands, and a low risk of tumours common in white populations, including cancer of the prostate, testis, and haemopoietic system. Both genetic and environmental factors seem to be responsible for this pattern. During the second half of the 20th century, Inuit societies underwent major changes in lifestyle and living conditions, and the risk of lifestyle-associated tumours, especially cancers of the lung, colon, and breast, increased considerably after changes in smoking, diet, and reproductive factors. This Review will briefly summarise the current knowledge on cancer epidemiology in Inuit populations, with emphasis on the characteristic Inuit types of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arctic Regions / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Inuits* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Sex Distribution