Inuits have the highest lung cancer rates in the world, largely attributed to widespread smoking among the population, researchers said Friday.
Inuits native to Canada, Greenland and Alaska were shown to have lung cancer rates twice as high as those found among Caucasians in the United States, according to the study published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
Over the past 35 years, lung cancer rates doubled for Inuit men and quadrupled for Inuit women, with higher rates found amongst the population living in Canada's North.
"Lung cancer is rapidly increasing in incidence (especially in Canada), such that the rate in both Inuit men and women is the highest in the world," researchers found.
"The most logical reason is the high smoking rate among Inuits," study co-author Kue Young, a public health professor at the University of Toronto, told AFP during an Arctic science summit.
Statistics Canada, the country's national statistical agency, says that 58 percent of Canadian Inuits smoke on a daily basis, more than three times the average population, with 17 percent of all adults in Canada smoking every day.
The Inuits are at far greater risk than whites for several cancers rare among other populations - such as colon, liver and nasopharyngeal cancer - but have lower rates for more common cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer.
Rates for nasopharyngeal cancer - which ferments behind the nose - were 24 times greater for Inuit men and 37 times higher for women than American Caucasians.
But the study also stressed that "overall, with all sites combined, the risk of cancer among Inuit men and women is not significantly different from US whites."
The researchers compared rates for different types of cancers among the Inuit population between 1969 and 1973 and during a second period spanning 1999 to 2003.
According to the last national census in 2001, the Inuit population is experiencing a population boom that has boosted its numbers by 26 percent in the past decade to some 50,000 people.