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Cancer in
Our Communities

American Indian and Alaska Native people face alarming inequities in cancer incidence and mortality. Cancer incidence rates vary by tribe, region and gender but are often much higher than Whites.

Cancer Burden Booklet

Cancer information for American Indian and Alaska Native people is often presented for the United States as a whole, which can mask some important differences that exist among regions. This resource, based on the important data published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014, presents cancer incidence and mortality information in an easy to understand format to describe top cancers and disparities within six Indian Health Service regions. It helps identify specific cancer needs across the country, and includes prevention information for the most common cancers.

Why are cancer rates higher among Native people?

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

Native People

A high burden of cancer risk factors:

  • Commercial 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 and/or results
  • Health beliefs that may conflict with prevention practices
Individual Barriers
Community and system level barriers

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