Current, Former Female Inmates Far More Likely to Develop Cervical, Lung Cancer, Study Finds

Current, Former Female Inmates Far More Likely to Develop Cervical, Lung Cancer, Study Finds

Women who have done time in prison are three times more likely to die from cervical cancer than women who were never behind bars, according to a Canadian study.

That’s one of the conclusions of a study which also found that people who’ve been incarcerated at some point in their lives are more likely than the general population to develop certain types of cancers, and are 50 percent more likely to die from them.

The study, “Cancer prevalence, incidence and mortality in people who experience incarceration in Ontario, Canada: A population-based retrospective cohort study,” was published in PLOS One.

At any given time, some 11 million people are imprisoned worldwide. These people usually have worse health than the general population, and have high rates of risk factors for cancer development. In fact, men who have been imprisoned are three times likely to die from head and neck and liver cancers as those who have never been in jail.


“We know that people who spend time in jails and prisons in Canada are more likely to use alcohol and tobacco, as well as have infections such as HPV (human papillomavirus) and HIV, which can increase the risk of developing some types of cancer,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Fiona Kouyoumdjian, said in a news release.

Along with her colleagues, Kouyoumdjian — a researcher at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and McMaster University — sought to examine the prevalence, incidence and mortality of cancer among Ontario prisoners. They examined the records of 48,166 adults admitted to provincial custody in Ontario in 2000 to assess how many developed cancer, and how many died from the disease over a 12-year period.

Between 2000 and 2012, 2.8 percent of women and 2.6 percent of men were diagnosed with a new cancer. In men, the most common types of cancers were lung, head and neck, prostate and colorectal cancer, while in women the most common were breast, lung and cervical cancer.

After adjusting for age, men were found to be more likely than the general population to develop head and neck, liver and lung cancer. In women, the incidence of cervical and lung cancer was higher than in the general population, but breast cancers develop less often than non-imprisoned women.

Data also revealed that 1.1 percent of men and 0.9 percent of women included in the study died from cancer. Adjusting for age, researchers found that men were 60 percent, and women 40 percent, more likely to die from cancer than their counterparts in the general population.

This suggests that authorities should direct cancer prevention efforts to current and former inmates.

“Incarceration represents a chance to help people improve their health through the provision of services and linkage with programs in the community,” Kouyoumdjian said. “Specific strategies that could prevent cancer in this population include smoking cessation, vaccination for HPV and HBV, pap screening and treatment for hepatitis C. These strategies could have a large impact, given that many people who experience incarceration are quite young.”

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