Norway cancer rates lower for immigrants

Ethnic Norwegians suffer more than non-European immigrants from certain cancers

Photo: Olav Olsen / Aftenposten
Wasim Zahid is one of the cancer researchers who has noted a higher rate of certain forms of the disease in native Norwegians than in non-European immigrants.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

The headline on the front page of the February 6 edition of Aftenposten, Oslo’s and Norway’s leading newspaper, read “Inn­vandrere får mindre kreft” (Immigrants get less cancer). A subheading explained that “Ikke-europeiske innvandrere rammes langt sjeldnere av tarmkreft, brystkreft og lunge­kreft, sykdommer som ofte skyldes livsstil” (Non-European immigrants suffer less intestinal cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer, diseases often due to lifestyle).

It was staggering news, in face of commonplace belief in the healthiness of traditional fare. The increasing share of fat, sugar, alcohol, red meat, and salty processed meats in the Western diet may well explain the higher incidence of cancer among ethnic Norwegians than among immigrants from eastern countries.

So comments Dr. Wasim Zahid, personally and professionally qualified to give relevant opinion. He’s a second-generation Pakistani Norwegian, born in Oslo in 1975 to parents who were among many who immigrated to Norway from the Kharian Province in Pakistan in the mid 1970s. He finished secondary school at the top of his class and then went on to complete a medical degree at the University of Oslo. In 2005 he started practice as a cardiologist on the staff of the Drammen Hospital. In 2016 he completed a PhD in ultrasound cardiac imaging, and today he is a specialist on the staff of the Oslo University Hospital. He also is a published author, frequent lecturer, and prolific contributor to social media, called Twitterlegen (The Twitter Doctor) for his commentary on health and integration.

Photo: Cancer Registry of Norway
Kirsti Vik Hjerkind

Dr. Zahid’s comments were made upon reading the scientific study conducted 1990-2012 by the Cancer Registry of Norway and published in a scientific paper by staff oncologist Kirsti Vik Hjerkind and colleagues in the International Journal of Cancer (Further reading). For most forms of cancer, the Cancer Registry research found that incidence was lower among immigrants than among ethnic Norwegians, expressed in ASR, the Age Standardization Rate, a measure used in epidemiology and demography in comparing different populations. However, exceptions were found. For example, the ASR for eastern European men was 50.7, significantly more than the 33.3 for ethnic Norwegian men, reflecting the higher penchant for smoking among ethnic eastern Europeans, both before and after immigration to Norway.

Further reading:
• “Innvandrere får mindre kreft” (Immigrants get less cancer), Aftenposten, print edition Feb. 6, 2017; online edition title “Inn­vandrere rammes sjeldnere av kreft enn nordmenn” (Immigrants suffer less often from cancer than Norwegians) link: (in Norwegian only)

• “Ethnic differences in the incidence of cancer in Norway” by Kirsti Vik Hjerkind et. al., International Journal of Cancer online, Jan. 27, 2017, link:

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Films of Norway_bunad
Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.