MONTREAL — For Annie Buchan, educating Canada’s Inuit about the dangers caused by cancer has been challenging.
The Inuit have a much higher cancer death rate than the general population and one of the highest incidence rates of lung cancer in the world.
Buchan, a recently retired health-care worker who lives in Nunavut, says when people talk about cancer in the Inuit society, it’s like a death sentence.
She said the real challenge has been to make sure that cancer-related terms are understood by the general population.
“It’s very technical a lot of the time and it causes lot of misunderstanding between the professionals and the patients,” Buchan, who lives in Cambridge Bay, said in an interview.
Buchan is vice-president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a partner in the project, and says tobacco, drugs and alcohol are used excessively in Inuit communities.
She said that could be reduced if Inuit took better care of their health.
“Education is the key that I feel is needed,” she said “We need to educate our population of Inuit to better understand the terms, treatment and symptoms of cancer.”
That improved in 2013 thanks to Pauktuutit, which launched a glossary containing 250 cancer-related terms translated into five dialects of Inuktitut with the help of the Canadian Cancer Society and other partners.
The glossary is written in what Buchan calls plain language and can be used by the general public and health-care providers.
The Canadian Cancer Society is hoping a new corporate donation of more than $1 million will help increase the awareness of the disease among Inuit across the country.
It announced Tuesday that Jaguar Land Rover Canada has contributed $1.4 million over five years to help improve cancer literacy and education among Inuit.
An official with the Canadian Cancer Society noted that the smoking rate among the Inuit is three times higher than the general population.
Spokeswoman Tracy Torchetti said lung cancer is the most common type of cancer among all Inuit populations.
“Other cancers rising as a result partly of smoking are cervical and colorectal cancer,” she said in an interview.
Torchetti described it as a complex problem.
“High tobacco use has been a major risk factor as well as things like diet and alcohol use,” she said.
“It’s all compounded by things like low income, inadequate housing, food insecurity and also lack of access to health-care services partly due to long distances.”
Torchetti said people hear the word ’cancer“ and think it’s time to go home to die.
“These are the perceptions that we need to change if we want people to have better responses to treatment,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada figures from 2011, the Inuit population in Canada numbered 59,445, with half under the age of 23.
It also said the average Inuit life expectancy is about 13 years shorter than that of other Canadians.