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Change in Alaska Native culture leads to cancers

With cancer rates among Alaska Natives increasing, health experts are looking for ways to combat a once-rare disease.

Tobacco use, high among Alaska Natives, is seen as a major factor. Tobacco-related cancers, such as lung cancer, account for one-third of Alaska Native deaths.

But since colon, rectal and stomach cancers are the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for Alaska Natives, experts say diet and exercise also play a big role. As more and more Alaska Natives rely on Western foods and become sedentary, the risk for cancer increases.

In 1995, about 18 percent of Alaska Native adults were considered obese. But in 2000, the number ballooned to 30 percent.

Traditional Alaska Native diets are high in nutrients, experts say. A subsistence lifestyle also keeps people active.

But some Natives trace the rise in cancer to the environment. They say toxic chemicals and other wastes left behind by the military are to blame. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying to clean up former military sites that contain cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. Some say en more dangerous chemicals like Agent Orange and Agent Purple were used in Native areas.

Get the Story:
A culture out of balance (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 12/7)
A toxic legacy?: Many Alaska Natives believe environmental contamination is behind outbreaks of cancer (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 12/8)

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