Student Research: Identifying cancer trends in Northern Canada

Written by Haoyuan Li

Despite cancer being the leading cause of death in Canada, it is still incompletely described in the Yukon and other territories in Northern Canada.

Jonathan Simkin, a current PhD student at the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH), is working with other health professionals to find out more about cancer trends in the area. The preliminary results show that the Yukon has a higher cancer death rate than its southern counterparts, according to their recent article published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.

“We are creating the first cancer focus network in Northern Canada.”
Current PhD student Jonathan Simkin

His career as a cancer epidemiologist started with his Master of Public Health (MPH) practicum in Whitehorse. During the practicum, he met his current co-supervisor, the Yukon Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health, and SPPH Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Catherine Elliott. His other supervisor is SPPH Professor Gina Ogilvie. He has been studying cancer epidemiology, which looks at the causes, distribution and control of cancer, ever since.

Mr. Simkin said that the small population size of the Yukon makes it hard to conduct research with statistical precision, which makes partnership across territories especially important. He is hoping to create a combined research infrastructure and analytic capacity within the next few years to support cancer prevention and control research.

Jonathan Simkin

Current PhD student Jonathan Simkin

“The legacy of the project is the partnership so we can continue to conduct the cancer research for the North, by the North, in the North.”
Current PhD student Jonathan Simkin

Mr. Simkin has been studying the current cancer trends in the Yukon for the past two years. Not only did he and his colleagues find that the Yukon has a higher cancer death rate, they also spotted a unique cancer profile for the territory: stomach cancer is much more common than other Canadian provinces. However, he believes that more research needs to be done before further conclusions can be made.

“The next step is looking across the North to see what cancer looks like in the Arctic, compared with other jurisdictions.”
Current PhD student Jonathan Simkin

He also pointed out that, oftentimes, rural and Northern Canadians have limited access to health services as there are fewer health centres in the area. There is no cancer centre in the Yukon so cancer patients there have to access centres in Prince George or Vancouver.

“Within the next three years, I am confident that we will have strong results and a strong partnership across the North and Canada.”
Current PhD student Jonathan Simkin

Mr. Simkin is passionate about public health research and his passion for health sciences, advocacy and public policy led him to pursue a career in cancer epidemiology. “Public health is the bridge between all these domains and on this platform, we can move forward and work together across disciplines for a healthy future for everyone”.

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