Alaska Native cancer epidemiology in the Arctic.


Cancer incidence and its possible relation to environmental contaminants, including radiation, continues to be a perceived health threat for the arctic-dwelling Alaska Native (Inupiat Eskimo) people despite the lack of a direct link to high-dose exposure. To better understand this concern, all known malignancies diagnosed in this population (n = 177) in three consecutive eight-year periods (1971-1994) were evaluated. The most recent average incidence rate (age-adjusted to world standard population) of 315 per 100,000 (95% confidence interval, CI = 248-382) represents a 33% surge (albeit non-significant) in Alaska Native cancer incidence over the initial period studied. The male rate 366 (95% CI = 266-466) for the same period exceeds the female rate 258 (95% CI = 169-347) by 42%. Two patterns of cancer incidence are seen at the village level. One, a 24 y upward trend found in the villages of Barrow, Point Hope and Kaktovik (combined rate of increase significant [P = 0.047]) associated with lung cancer; and the other, a stable trend over the past 16 y, associated with colon and rectal cancer. Lung cancer is the predominant cancer by site and is primarily a male disease. The recent male lung cancer incidence rate of 137 (95% CI = 73-201) exceeds the female rate by greater than five times. Total lung cancer cases are primarily confined to four villages where the incidence significantly (P = 0.0043) exceeds the remaining population. The major female cancers are colon/rectal and breast with cancer of the cervix virtually eliminated. Breast cancer is found primarily in two villages where its excess is significant (P = 0.025). Inupiat Eskimo cancer epidemiology is unique, differing from both the Alaska Native and other Circumpolar populations. At present, this uniqueness cannot be explained by an overt environmental contaminant exposure. Although tobacco very likely plays a central role, it by itself cannot fully explain the extremely high male lung cancer rate and why only specific villages are affected. Genetic predisposition and environmental factors may play a synergistic role as cofactors. A cooperative investigative effort with the Inupiat population is indicated and may go a long way in reducing cancer concern in the region.

Location Description: 

Alaska AK