A retrospective review of cancer treatments and outcomes among Inuit referred from Nunavut

T.R. Asmis, M. Febbraro, G.G. Alvarez, J.N. Spaans, M. Ruta, A. Lalany, G. Osborne, G.D. Goss



Cancer is a health concern in Inuit populations. Unique cultural, dietary, and genetic factors and geographic isolation influence cancer epidemiology in this group. Inuit-specific data about oncology treatments and survival outcomes in Canadian Inuit referred to urban treatment centres are lacking.


A retrospective chart review of Inuit patients referred to The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre (tohcc) from the Baffin region of Nunavut between 2000 and 2010 was conducted. Nunavut cancer registry data were used to establish the percentage of cancer cases referred and their survival outcomes.


Of 307 cancer patients registered among Baffin-region Inuit, 216 [70% (63 men, 153 women)] were referred to tohcc for chemotherapy (ct) and radiation therapy (rt). Mean age in the referred group was 59.3 years (range: 25–89 years), and current smokers constituted half the group (52%). The cancers most  commonly leading to referral in men were lung (55%), colorectal (19%), and nasopharyngeal (11%) cancers; in women, they were lung (46%), colorectal (24%), breast (10%), nasopharyngeal (6%), and cervical (5%) cancers. Of the 216 referred patients, 82 (38%) had already undergone surgery, and 18 (8%) received chemoradiation or rt only, all given with curative intent. Among the surgical patients referred, 33 (40%) and 23 (28%) went on to receive adjuvant ct and adjuvant rt respectively. Among 116 patients referred for palliative care, 64 (55%) received ct, 76 (66%) received rt, 43 (37%) received both ct and rt, and 19 (16%) received neither treatment. Median all-stage overall survival was 10 months for patients with lung cancer [95% confidence interval: 6.1 to 13.9 months] and 37 months for patients with colorectal cancer [95% confidence interval: 14.8 to 59.2 months].


High uptake of palliative and adjuvant ct and rt was observed in the Inuit patients referred to tohcc. Lung cancer was the most common cancer in referred Inuit men and women. The survival rates for Inuit lung cancer patients referred to tohcc were comparable to those in the rest of Canada. Further research is required to understand reasons for non-referral of Canadian Inuit to tohcc.


Inuit; treatment; survival; travel

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3747/co.22.2421

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)