Addressing cancer health disparities = More lives saved

Dear Editor,

The recent release of the Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer contained some positive overall news: cancer death rates have dropped an average of 2.1 percent per year from 2002 through 2004, which is a more rapid decline than we saw in the last report. Despite this progress, the same report reveals in a first-ever special section focusing on Native American and Alaska Native populations, that cancer continues to be a tough opponent for Indian Country. Incidence rates for cancers of the kidney, stomach, liver, cervix, and gallbladder were reportedly higher in the American Indian and Alaska Native populations when compared to the non-Hispanic White population.

Lung and colorectal cancer incidence rates were also significantly higher in certain American Indian and Alaska Native populations compared to non-Hispanic White persons. This unequal burden highlights the importance of efforts to combat cancer health disparities and unnecessary suffering and death, wherever they might exist.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a main contributor to the annual report, is committed to reducing cancer disparities in our society, including those faced by the American Indian community. Currently, the NCI, through its Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD), is actively working with tribal communities and others to address cancer. For example, NCI is working alongside the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board to reach American Indian/Alaska Native populations through the Patient Navigation Research Program. This particular project, called the Northwest Tribal Cancer Navigator Program, pairs nurse navigators and community navigators in “teams” in five tribal communities serving American Indian cancer patients who need guidance through the health care system.

I applaud these and other efforts from the NCI to address barriers faced by this unique population – the residents of Indian Country – when it comes to cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

I urge continuation of and support for these initiatives. Simply put: The greater the efforts, the more lives will be saved. For more information about cancer health disparities, visit or call 1-800-4-CANCER.


Dr. Judith Kaur

Mayo Clinic

Rochester, Minnesota