New report finds higher cancer risk in First Nations in Ontario

TORONTO, ON (March 30, 2016) – A new report developed jointly by Cancer Care Ontario and the Chiefs of Ontario shows that First Nations, especially those living on-reserve, demonstrate a much higher prevalence of cancer risk factors than non-Aboriginal Ontarians.

There are over 270,000 First Nations in Ontario, but a lack of health data makes it challenging to understand the current cancer burden in this population. The report, Cancer in First Nations in Ontario: Risk Factors and Screening, contains important information about cancer risk factors and screening uptake for both on- and off-reserve First Nations in Ontario and helps to address the data gap.

“Through our collaboration with Cancer Care Ontario, we now have essential evidence that can help inform the development of cancer screening and prevention initiatives for First Nations communities,” says Carmen Jones, Research Manager, Chiefs of Ontario. “Other than age and sex, lifestyle factors play the biggest role in determining an individual’s risk of developing cancer. The findings show that significant work is needed to address cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity among First Nations.”

The report is aligned with Cancer Care Ontario’s Aboriginal Cancer Strategy III, which highlights prevention, education and research and surveillance as key priorities. It is also in line with the Chiefs of Ontario’s goal of providing First Nations with the information they need to take control of their health and well-being.

“In general, on-reserve First Nation individuals fare more poorly than those living off-reserve and non-Aboriginal Ontarians,” says Dr. Loraine Marrett, Senior Scientist, Cancer Care Ontario. “The size of some of the observed disparities among First Nations living on-reserve are particularly alarming, including higher rates of cigarette smoking, obesity, as well as lower fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Key Facts:

  • First Nation men and women living on-reserve are nearly two and three times more likely to smoke cigarettes than non-Aboriginal men and women, respectively.
  • Nearly one-third of First Nation teens living on-reserve and 14 per cent of First Nation teens living off-reserve are smokers, compared to four per cent of non-Aboriginal teens.
  • Among First Nations living on-reserve, the prevalence of obesity is nearly three times greater, while the proportion consuming an adequate amount of vegetables and fruit is one-third of that for non-Aboriginal Ontarians.
  • First Nation women living on-reserve who are age-eligible for breast screening (50 to 74 years old) have lower mammography rates (55 per cent) than their non-Aboriginal counterparts (79 per cent).

The data shows that urgent action is needed to improve the health of First Nations in Ontario. Practical actions are required to encourage healthy behaviours, but there is also a need to develop culturally appropriate policies and programs to support individuals, families and communities in making healthy choices. Moving forward, efforts to reduce the risk and burden of cancer in First Nations will require a collaborative partnership between various health organizations.

A full copy of the report is available at

Visit today to determine your personal cancer risk. To contact an Aboriginal Patient Navigator who can help First Nations and other Aboriginal cancer patients and their families, please visit Cancer Care Ontario’s website.

Click here to read the media backgrounder.

About Cancer Care Ontario:

Cancer Care Ontario plays an important role in equipping health professionals, organizations and policy-makers with the most up-to-date cancer knowledge and tools to prevent cancer and deliver high quality patient care. It does this by collecting and analyzing data about cancer services and combining it with evidence and research that is shared with the healthcare community in the form of guidelines and standards. It also monitors and measures the performance of the cancer system, and oversees a funding and governance model that ties funding to performance, making healthcare providers more accountable and ensuring value for investments in the system.

Cancer Care Ontario actively engages people with cancer and their families in the design, delivery and evaluation of Ontario’s cancer system, and works to improve the performance of Ontario’s cancer system by driving quality, accountability, innovation and value.

About the Chiefs of Ontario:

The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and secretariat for collective decision-making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nations communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario. Guided by the Chiefs in Assembly, we uphold self-determination efforts of the Anishinaabek, Mushkegowuk, Onkwehonwe, and Lenape Peoples in protecting and exercising their inherent and Treaty rights. Keeping in mind the wisdom of our Elders, and the future of our youth, we continue to create the path forward in building our Nations as strong, healthy Peoples respectful of ourselves, each other, and all creation.

The activities of the Chiefs of Ontario are mandated through and guided by:

  • Resolutions passed by the Chiefs in Assembly of the 133 First Nations in Ontario
  • The Political Confederacy made up of the Grand Chiefs of Political Territorial Organizations (PTOs) and Independent First Nations
  • The elected Regional Chief for the Chiefs of Ontario.

For more information, please contact:

Cancer Care Ontario
Phone: 1.855.460.2646

Chiefs of Ontario
Phone: 1.877.517.6527

(Source: Cancer Care Ontario)