Living in Extreme Environments Increases the Risk for Cancer

By Amanda Moises

Scientists have already known that populations in some geological locations are more predisposed to cancer than others. According to researcher Konstantinos Voskarides at the University of Cyprus’ Medical School, populations living in cold climates or high altitudes, such as Norway and Denmark, have a higher risk for cancer. Voskarides believes that an evolutionary adaptation for living in extreme environments could have led to the increased risk of cancer in humans. In other words, cell resistance to cold temperatures or high altitudes increases the probability for malignant cancer cells.

In order to come to this conclusion, Voskarides examined data for incidents of cancer around the world and found that populations in the coldest environments had the highest incidence of lung, breast, and colorectal cancer. For example, Siberian Eskimos had high incidence of colorectal, esophageal, and lung cancer while the Oromi, a high-altitude population in Ethiopia, had high incidence of leukemia. 

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that these effects can be eliminated by natural selection because most cancers occur in older adults who have already had children. Nonetheless, the findings of this study are highly significant because they provide the first evidence for a relationship between higher cancer risk and extreme environments. Scientists are eager to use this new information to examine what adaptive forces are causing these genetic changes.


Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). (2017, December 6). Cold discomfort: Increasing cancer rates and adaptation of living in extreme environments. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 9, 2017 from