Higher than average cancer rates in B.C.’s Indigenous population to be explored at UBC

Dr. Nadine Caron has been appointed the founding FNHA chair in Cancer and Wellness at UBC. [PNG Merlin Archive]

Martin Dee / PNG

Finding out why colon and cervical cancer rates are higher among B.C.’s Indigenous population are among the aims of a new research position at the University of British Columbia.

On Monday, UBC and the First Nations Health Authority revealed Dr. Nadine Caron — Canada’s first female First Nations surgeon and first female First Nations medical school graduate at UBC — had been appointed the founding FNHA chair in Cancer and Wellness. Caron, who is based in Prince George, is also the co-director of UBC’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health.

Dr. Caron told Postmedia News that little is known about why the incidence of some cancers — like colon and cervical — are higher in B.C.’s Indigenous population, and survival rates were lower.

“Colon, cervical and breast (cancers) we will be focusing on because they also have the provincewide screening programs,” said Dr. Caron. “So those are three cancers that are not only detectable at an earlier stage, but can be prevented by detecting them in precancerous state.”

Dr. Caron was one of the authors of a 2017 report that looked at cancer incidence and survival for B.C.’s Indigenous population between 1993 and 2010. It was the first time a study of its kind has been completed, uncovering the higher rates of colon and cervical cancer, while concluding that First Nations people living in B.C. faced unique cancer issues compared to non-First Nations people.

“Higher incidence and lower survival associated with certain cancer types require further research to look into the likely multi-faceted basis for these findings,” the report stated.

This further research will be conducted the Dr. Caron’s group, using $3 million from the FNHA and UBC over the next five years. Dr. Caron, who is an oncology surgeon, will continue her medical work in Northern B.C. while chairing the cancer and wellness study.

“That (2017) study I think was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the type of understanding we are hoping to get,” she said. “There were a lot of questions that came out of that study.

“My role is to provide perspectives and passion in an area that has been grossly under represented in post secondary institutions and research bodies for years.”

For example, Dr. Caron said no one has ever looked at the efficacy, quality, availability and access of cancer screening programs for First Nations people in British Columbia.

“My guess is the screening programs are one of many places to look,” she said, in trying to find an answer to the question of higher cancer rates.

Dr. Caron was raised in Kamloops, but comes from a First Nation in Ontario. She went to Simon Fraser University after high school, then to medical school at UBC and completed a general surgical residency. Dr. Caron has also completed her Masters in Public Health at Harvard University.






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