Study suggests Nunavimmiut more likely to die from lung cancer


Researchers says findings point to consequences of delays in diagnosis and treatment for Inuit in northern Quebec

A new study suggests people who live in Nunavik are more likely to die from lung cancer.

The study, published Feb. 20 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, compared lung cancer registry data involving patients in Montreal and Nunavik who were diagnosed between 2005 and 2017.

The results were divided between the two main types of lung cancers: small cell and non-small cell. Approximately 80 to 85 per cent of cancers are of the non-small cell variety, according to the American Cancer Society.

The study found Nunavik residents had a median survival time of 321 days versus 720 days for Montreal residents for non-small cell lung cancer.

For small-cell cancer diagnoses, Nunavik residents had a median survival time of 190 days, versus 270 days for those in Montreal.

Nunavik residents are not genetically predisposed to lung cancer, the study said. Rather, the results are more likely to be a result of “chronic underfunding and under-resourcing of Nunavik’s health services, as well as the lack of Inuit representation in health-care provision.”

Dr. Nathalie Boulanger, professional services director at the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre in Kuujjuaq, said the study’s results “floored” her.

Viewing a study like that, she said, “You say to yourself, my God, are we not able to offer better health care to our population than that?”

The problem Boulanger said she sees is delays at almost every point of care for patients.

“It takes an eternity to have a scan, and there are delays to get access to specialists,” she said.

The treatment for cancer itself is a process that takes multiple months and is often a huge challenge for patients to conquer on top of the illness itself, said Boulanger.

All lung cancer patients from Nunavik receive treatment at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal. Many patients don’t arrive with escorts and don’t know anybody in the city who can provide support.

“There is a big proportion of people that after some time they pull the plug,” Boulanger said.

“They decide to stop going down south for treatment and they let the cancer kill them, because it is just too much for them.”

She said she wants to see a scan accessible in both Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq hospitals. That would allow many patients to avoid travelling for multiple days for an appointment that takes only about 90 minutes to complete.

Patients see the same issue with breast cancer, Boulanger said. Mammography scans, which take about 15 minutes, are also not regularly available in Nunavik and some patients have to travel for weeks just to have one.

A machine that can provide these scans would also be helpful to spot colon cancer, any abdominal anomalies and even determining what type of stroke a victim may have suffered, Boulanger said.



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