Cancer differences by migrant background

Research project: Cancer differences by migrant background

Cancer differences by migrant background: a population-based cohort study on determinants and backgrounds in Belgium in the 2000s

2017-2020 | Funding: FWO funded project


European societies are increasingly ageing, and an increasing share of these elderly has a migrant background. Belgium has been a forerunner in this evolution, as large-scale immigration took place quite early in its history. An elderly population is certainly good news, but also presents us with some challenges, since the elderly are more often in poor health, and are more vulnerable to cancer, amongst other diseases. Whilst much is known about cancer risk in the elderly host population, much less is known about that of immigrants. Large-scale studies on cancer risk and mortality, comparing the host population with people of migrant background, are fairly rare in Europe. Yet, it is of high interest to study these differences, given the increasing share of elderly immigrants and the fact that factors causing cancer are still not completely understood. This project will do so in a Belgian context. Since first-generation immigrants have moved countries and thus disease environments, they can be considered as an “experimental group”. Studying cancer and its mechanisms in populations of immigrant origin vs. the host population can therefore provide insights into the mechanisms causing cancer: e.g. on the importance of environmental versus genetic factors for certain cancers. These findings will not only offer new insights into the burden of cancer and its causes, but also have the potential to guide future policies to increase the health of all people in an ageing context.