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 Whites.

American Indian Cancer Burden: Cancer Facts for American Indians and Alaska Natives
Information on cancer for American Indians and Alaska Natives is often presented for the United States as a whole, which can mask some important differences that exist for these regions. This resource, based on the important but complex 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.

Download Booklet: American Indian Cancer Burden (pdf)

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

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