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Cancer rates on the decline in Indian Country
Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Fewer American Indians and Alaska Natives are suffering and dying from cancer, according to a new study being published today.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, tracked cancer incidence and mortality rates in the United States. Based on data from 1993 to 2000, they reported a drop in cancer among Native Americans, who already have one of the lowest rates of all ethnic and racial groups.

For Native men, the incident rate for all types of cancers dropped from nearly 350 per 100,000 in 1993 to around 250 per 100,000 in 2000. For Native women, the rate fell from 250 per 100,000 to 200 per 100,000.

Cancer deaths among Native men and women have slowed, according to the study. Although both genders experienced a spike in the late-1990s, the death rate has returned to early 1990s levels.

The drop in incident rates was indicative of the "good news" seen among all Americans, Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, director of the institute, said yesterday. But death rates, while they have dropped over the years, have leveled off recently, he noted.

"This year's 'Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer' makes our purpose clear: We must work to accelerate the downward trends in mortality for the leading cancers and extend them to other cancers and all population groups," von Eschenbach said.

The four leading cancers in the United States are lung and bronchus female breast, prostate, and colorectal. In all four categories, Native Americans showed lower incidence and death rates than Whites and African-Americans, and comparable rates to Asians and Hispanics.

The report did not break down rates for each category among different Indian Country populations. But it is known that cancers affect Native Americans differently, based on other research.

Studies from the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have documented lung cancer incidence and death rates in the Northern Plains and Alaska that are higher than other Native Americans and the general population. Studies also show that Alaska Native women experience higher breast cancer rates than their Indian counterparts.

Researchers have always cautioned that data for Native Americans may be lower than actual, due to racial misclassification, particularly for deaths. In yesterday's report, the data for Native Americans was limited to the years 1992 through 2000, compared to 1975 to 2000 for Whites and African-Americans.

"Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer" is published in today's issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a subscription-only journal. The data used for the report can be found in tables at

Additional Documents:
Progress Shown in Death Rates From Four Leading Cancers; Decline in Overall Mortality Has Slowed | Report Q&A | Report Fact Sheet | Director's Message

Tables: Nationwide cancer incidence and mortality rates by race, between 1996 and 2000, from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Lung and Bronchus Incidence Mortality
White 63.2 56.7
Black 81.2 66.4
Asian/Pacific Islander 43.2 28.5
American Indian/Alaska Native 33.1 37.2
Hispanic 33.2 25.8

Colon and Rectum Incidence Mortality
White 53.9 20.7
Black 62.6 28.5
Asian/Pacific Islander 46.9 13.1
American Indian/Alaska Native 34.7 14.7
Hispanic 40.0 14.3

Female Breast Incidence Mortality
White 140.8 27.2
Black 121.7 35.9
Asian/Pacific Islander 97.1 12.5
American Indian/Alaska Native 58.0 14.9
Hispanic 89.8 17.9

Prostate Incidence Mortality
White 164.3 30.2
Black 272.1 73.0
Asian/Pacific Islander 100.0 13.9
American Indian/Alaska Native 53.6 21.9
Hispanic 137.2 24.1

Relevant Links:
National Cancer Institute -

Related Stories:
Health studies show Indian Country disparities (08/01)
CDC atlas documents disparity in stroke deaths (02/21)
Poor Indian health blamed on federal failures (3/21)
CDC: Death rates at record lows, except Indians (10/11)
CDC: Indian mothers heaviest smokers (8/29)
Indian Country ranks high in deaths (6/27)
Cancer deaths increase in Indian Country (6/6)

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