Thunder Bay·Audio

First Nation cancer study generating 'wider interest'

This fall, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto will study cancer rates among First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.

Budget for First Nation cancer study will limit scope of research — for now

Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseseewagong) First Nation is one of the northwestern Ontario First Nations included in the Health Canada-funded cancer study. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Health Canada is sponsoring a new study of First Nations cancer rates Dr. Howard Hu is the study's lead researcher. 6:58
This fall, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto will study cancer rates among First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.

The study is funded by Health Canada and will include several communities, among them are Northwest Angle 33 First Nation, Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) and White Dog (Wabaseemoong) First Nation.

The lead researcher for the team said there is a possibility the study may grow in size.

"Now that the cancer study has been announced, there's been wider interest among First Nations communities," Howard Hu said.

"[As for] our ability to meet that wider interest — we'll try to do it as best we can within the limitations of the one-year budget we've been given," he said.

Dr. Howard Hu is the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Hu is part of The Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health — the University of Toronto’s new research institute dedicated to the health of Indigenous Canadians. (pandemicofhealth.ca)

Hu, who is dean of the Dalla Lana school of public health at the University of Toronto, said the team will look specifically look at what environmental factors could be contributing to cancer rates.

"We can't accomplish that much with $200,000, so we are trying to be really be very clear with both our communities partners and Health Canada about what we'll be able to do with that amount," he continued.

"It's not even enough money, for instance, [to] measure environmental contaminants in people's bodies using blood samples, for example," he said. "It's not even enough to do clinical assessments or measure things like cancer bio markers. It's really a very preliminary step to assess what the true rates of cancer may be and look at the information that may be out there already."

Hu said the study will "validate if we have been able to capture the cancers of interest in the database we have."

The research will identify and train people who can solicit the names or contact information of people who have had cancer and find their records.

The study will begin this fall and will take up to three years to complete.

The research will focus on the Northwest Angle 33 First Nation — near the borders of Manitoba and the U.S. — where it is reported locally that a quarter of the community's residents have been diagnosed with cancer over the last few decades.

Northwest Angle 33 on Google Maps

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