Health and mortalityMigration and discrimination

Cancer mortality by migrant background in Belgium

A newly published article, ‘Cancer mortality by migrant background in Belgium during the 2000s: Patterns and social determinants’ in Cancer Treatment and Research Communications by Wanda Van Hemelrijck, Helga de Valk and Hadewijch Vandenheede points out that cancer mortality in Belgium highly relates to where an individual and his/her parents are from. The socio-economic position plays an important role in this relationship.



To map and compare site-specific cancer mortality for Belgians and five of the largest immigrant groups in Belgium, and to look into the role of socio-economic position (SEP) and urbanisation.


We use linked Belgian census and register data for the period 2001–2011. Mortality from common cancer sites is studied for Belgians and individuals with a migrant background from Italy, France, the Netherlands, Morocco and Turkey aged 40 to 69. We use indirect standardisation and Poisson regression modelling, taking into account the effect of age, urbanisation and SEP. First- (FG) and second-generation (SG) immigrants are included.


There is marked diversity in cancer mortality levels by migrant background, with oft-lower levels for FG Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, and levels usually closer to those of Belgians for European immigrants. Small increases are commonly observed by generation, although less clearly so for stomach and liver cancer. SEP plays an important role in the patterning of cancer mortality by migrant background.


Migrant background is associated with differences in site-specific cancer mortality levels in Belgium. The observed role of SEP warrants special attention to the most vulnerable socio-economic groups.