Literature Review and Profile of Cancer Diseases Among Afghan Refugees in Iran: Referrals in Six Years of Displacement


There is a paucity of research on the profile of cancers among displaced populations, specifically Afghan refugees in Iran.

This study illustrates the pattern of cancers in this population, and highlights the challenges of cancer care in displaced people with the intent that this data will facilitate appropriate allocation of resources to improve care in this population.

Material and methods

This was a retrospective cross-sectional study, in which we collected the demographics and profile of cancers among Afghan refugees from 2005 to 2010 from referrals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Iran.

Accrued evidence by other studies published between January 1993 and July 2014 pertaining to cancer diagnoses in refugees from Afghanistan, Tibet, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq was reviewed.


Cancer diagnoses accounted for 3083 of 23 152 total referrals, with 49% female and 51% male cases; 23.3% were 0-17 years of age, 61.2% were 18-59, and 15.5% were above 60.

The most common health referral for females and males (0-17) was malignant neoplasms of lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue, accounting for 34.2%.

In the age groups 18-59 and above 60 for both male and females it was malignant neoplasm of the digestive system, occurring in 26.3% and 48.7%, respectively.


In the setting of humanitarian crises especially war, cancer diagnoses among refugees is a major health burden both on the host countries and the international community with serious implications considering the recent growing trend in the Middle Eastern countries.

The prevalence of certain cancer diagnoses among refugees, like gastrointestinal, respiratory, breast, and genitourinary cancers necessitates a multidirectional approach, primarily aimed at prevention and early detection.

International partnerships are essential for improvement in cancer surveillance service availability, and delivery of the standard of care, in an overall effort to reduce the human cost, monetary, and resource associated burdens of cancer.

Recommendations to implement effective prevention and management goals as well as improved record keeping in the refugee setting and the acquisition of secure and sustainable funding sources should be implemented in collaboration with global humanitarian agencies like UNHCR.