American Indian Cancer Facts


American Indians face alarming inequities in cancer incidence and mortality.  Cancer incidence rates vary by tribe, region and gender but are often much higher than non-Hispanic Whites.

  • Cervical cancer rates up to 69% higher
  • Lung cancer rates up to 83% higher
  • Colon cancer rates up to 162% higher
  • Liver cancer rates up to 198% higher
  • Stomach cancer rates up to 490% higher
  • Gallbladder cancer rates up to 691% higher

(Cancer, Sept. 2008)

Why are Cancer Rates Higher among American Indians? 

The answer is complex and is likely a combination of several of the following factors all working together.

A high burden of cancer risk factors:

  • Tobacco abuse (smoking and chewing) and cigarette smoke exposure
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Diets high in animal fats and low in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family genes that increase cancer risk

Individual barriers to prevention and care:

  • Low awareness of cancer risks
  • Low awareness of screening options
  • Distrust of medical systems and research
  • Fear of screening tests or results
  • Health beliefs that may conflict with prevention practices

Community and system level barriers:

  • Underfunded urban and tribal health systems
  • Lack of accurate population-specific data
  • High rates of poverty
  • Poor access to health care due to low rates of health insurance
  • Limited availability of prevention programs, cancer screening and specialist care

How can you help?