Background: Cancer risk varies geographically and across ethnic groups that can be monitored in cancer control to respond to observed trends as well as ensure appropriate health care. The study of cancer risk in immigrant populations has great potential to contribute new insights into aetiology, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Disparities in cancer risk patterns between immigrant and autochthonous populations have been reported many times, but up to now studies have been heterogeneous and may be discordant in their findings. The aim of this overview was to compile and compare studies on cancer occurrence in migrant populations from non-western countries residing in Western Europe in order to reflect current knowledge in this field and to appeal for further research and culturally sensitive prevention strategies.
Methods: We included 37 studies published in the English language between 1990 and April 2010 focussing on cancer in adult migrants from non-western countries, living in the industrialised countries of the European Union. Migrants were defined based on their country of birth, ethnicity and name-based approaches. We conducted a between-country comparison of age-adjusted cancer incidence and mortality in immigrant populations with those in autochthonous populations.
Findings: Across the board migrants from non-western countries showed a more favourable all-cancer morbidity and mortality compared with native populations of European host countries, but with considerable site-specific risk diversity: Migrants from non-western countries were more prone to cancers that are related to infections experienced in early life, such as liver, cervical and stomach cancer. In contrast, migrants of non-western origin were less likely to suffer from cancers related to a western lifestyle, e.g. colorectal, breast and prostate cancer.
Discussion: Confirming the great cancer risk diversity in non-western migrants in and between different European countries, this overview reaffirms the importance of exposures experienced during life course (before, during and after migration) for carcinogenesis. Culturally sensitive cancer prevention programmes should focus on individual risk patterns and specific health care needs. Therefore, continuously changing environments and subsequently changing risks in both migrant and autochthonous populations need to be observed carefully in the future.
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