FROM THE ARCHIVE

Cancer deaths increase in Indian Country

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JUNE 6, 2001

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday praised an overall reduction in rates of new cancer cases and deaths but American Indians and Alaska Natives aren't always benefiting from the trend.

Cancer deaths for Native Americans, in fact, increased from 1992-1998, according to statistics compiled by the federal government and private health organizations. American Indians and Alaska Native were the only group to see an overall increase in death rates while other racial and ethnic groups saw both an overall decrease in new cancer cases and cancer deaths.

Deaths in Indian Country increased an average of 1.0 percent per year from 1992 to 1998. In contrast, rates among all other groups fell: Whites by 1.1 percent; African-Americans by 1.3 percent; Hispanics by 0.9 percent; and Asian-Americans by 1.2 percent.

The largest jumps in deaths among Native Americans were in colon and rectum cancer at 4.7 percent and lung cancer at 2.1 percent.

Breast cancer deaths among Native women increased only slightly: 0.1 percent. In contrast, breast cancer deaths fell among all other groups: Whites by 2.7 percent; African-Americans by 0.6 percent; Hispanics by 0.7 percent, and Asian-Americans by 0.4 percent.

But while new cases of breast cancer increased in the country as a whole, American Indian and Alaska Native women did not fall into this trend. New breast cancer cases among Native women declined an average of 0.1 percent per year.

In contrast, new cases of breast cancer for the entire country increased an average of 1.2 percent.

The disparity could be attributed to better screening and testing among Native women, which leads to earlier treatment of cancer. But more likely, say health officials and experts, the difference is a result of inadequate health care practices in Indian Country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who operate a nationwide breast cancer screening program, says American Indian women are more likely to report abnormal results and cancers when they get tested because many have never received a mammogram before. The National Cancer Institute also points out that Alaska Native women have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer than American Indians.

White women have the highest incidence rate of breast cancer at 115.5 per 100,000. American Indian women have the lowest at 50.5 per 100,000.

The four big killers among all ethnic and racial groups are breast, prostate, lung, and colon-rectum cancer. These accounted for 52.7 percent of the deaths in 1988. They also accounted for 55.9 percent of the new cancer cases.

Get the Cancer Statistics:
Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1973-1998

Relevant Links:
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program - http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/NBCCEDP
Ten Years of Progress, The NBCCEDP - http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/NBCCEDP/anniversary.htm

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