Health Issues
Aging and Arctic Populations: Gastric Cancer

Approximately 25% of indigenous people in the Arctic older than 65 years of age die of cancer. In general, while the rates of deaths from cancer are similar to those of non-indigenous communities, the types of cancers from which indigenous elders die of are different.

For example, it is known that Alaskan Natives 65 years of age and older suffer from gastric cancer at rates that are 3 to 4 times higher than non-native Americans of the same age. Likewise, the rates of gastric cancer are elevated among the Inuit in Canada and Greenland. While gastric cancer is a multifactorial disease, two important influences are diet and the presence of Helicobacter pylori.

Many Arctic indigenous people eat diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in preserved foods, like smoked or salty foods. This type of diet is associated with a higher risk of developing gastric cancer. Additionally, Helicobacter pylori is present in a much higher percentage of the native population than non-native populations. 70-80% of Alaskan Natives suffer from of Helicobacter pylori, compared to 20-30% of non-natives. This is also thought to be the case in Canada and Greenland. Since Helicobacter pylori lives in the stomach and is known to be capable of causing cancer in humans, there is a possibility that its presence could be associated with gastric cancer. However, our understanding of gastric cancer in indigenous Arctic communities is still incomplete.

During this International Polar Year, several proposals have been submitted to increase surveillance and communication of different diseases, such as gastric cancer. Rates of gastric cancer and of Helicobacter pylori are unknown in Russia, and EoI 1139 is a proposal to compare main health indicators of indigenous and non-aboriginal populations in Russia and the foreign Arctic. Additionally, EoI 516 intends to develop and sustain an international, collaborative research network that will conduct research about the incidence, determinants, and effective interventions related to diseases. EoI 922 is an Alaskan project that will create the necessary infrastructure to monitor and observe environmental, social, and economic factors at a sub-regional level. The increase in surveillance and communications that will result from these projects will serve to increase our knowledge about diseases like gastric cancer in indigenous Arctic communities.