Cancer Prevalence

Cancer is a leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations. Overall, AI/ANs face inequities in cancer prevention and control and have not seen the same level of progress as non-Hispanic whites over the past decades. In many regions, AI/AN cancer rates are significantly higher than rates of non-Hispanic whites, with stagnant or increasing rates for lung, colorectal, and breast cancers.

Cancer prevalence, incidence, and mortality are important indicators of health status for AI/AN populations. AI/AN cancer incidence and mortality rates vary greatly across regions and genders.

Cancer Risk Reduction in indian country

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among AI/ANs. Lung cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest in the Northern Plains and Alaska and lowest in the Southwest. Northern Plains women are over two times as likely to die of lung cancer as non-Hispanic whites. Northern Plains men are 1.71 times as likely to die of lung cancer as non-Hispanic whites. Alaska Native men are almost 1.5 times as likely to die of lung cancer as non-Hispanic whites. Southwest AI men and women are one-third as likely to die of lung cancer as non-Hispanic whites.

Cancer Risk Reduction: Lung Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among AI/AN men and third among women. Alaska Native men are twice as likely as white men to be diagnosed with and die of CRC. Alaska Native women are almost 2.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with and die of the disease.

Cancer risk reduction: coloRectal Cancer

Cervical cancer

Northern Plains women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4.15 times as likely as White women to die of the disease.

Cancer risk reduction: cervical cancer and HPV

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and a leading cause of mortality among AI/ANs. Over the past decade, breast cancer death rates decreased significantly among white women yet regional and national AI/AN rates were unchanged. AI/AN women continue to have worse survival rates than White women.

cancer risk reduction: Breast Cancer

Liver cancer

Overall, AI/AN men and women are 2.12 and 2.84 times as likely to die of liver cancer as white men and women, respectively. Northern Plains women were 3.25 times as likely to die of the disease.

cancer risk reduction: Hepatocellular carcinoma

AI/AN cancer surveillance data is often limited by small AI/AN population sample sizes, data or population aggregation in national and regional datasets, and lack of culturally appropriate survey methods. Widespread racial misclassification in State Cancer Registries results in underestimation of AI/AN cancer burden. However, these limitations can be reduced through collaborative surveillance efforts among tribal, state, and federal agencies, including Cancer Registry data linkages, using larger AI/AN population sample sizes or oversampling in surveys, use of culturally appropriate survey methods, and development of strong regional and tribal-specific datasets.

Many AI/ANs have high rates of smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and low rates of cancer screening and consumption of fruits and vegetables. These contributing factors increase cancer risk and form the basis of “winnable battles” that tribal health systems and programs may tackle. Learn more about Cancer Prevention.

Cancer Journey Resource Guide

Designed by the Three Fires Cancer Consortium and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, this Cancer Journey Resource Guide is a helpful tool that provides your patients with a directory of resources available in your community.  This is an editable/tailorable guide designed to be delivered to your cancer patients by a clinic or community health staff member who can review and offer the resources available within your community, and at the same time provide a staff member time to document any fears or barriers the patient may be encountering, and any support they need with their cancer diagnosis.

Many patients living in rural locations are not provided the navigation support offered in urban areas, and this toolkit can provide a connection back to community resources to mitigate issues such as financial barriers, and food insecurity, and provide personalized referrals to local resources (traditional healer, dietician, behavioral health, etc.) while on their cancer journey.

This link is a Canva template, that you can copy, rename, and tailor for your health system and tribal community.  If you have any questions or need support in tailoring this document for your community, please reach out to  .

CDC United States Cancer Statistics

Providing the latest cancer data on the United States population.

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Mayo Clinic and tribal agencies, organizations, and academic institutions across the U.S. partnered to create and share tribal cancer resources and opportunities.

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Link National Cancer institute

National Cancer Institute's overview of Native American Initiatives, including the Native American Network and tribal cancer registries.

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Link cancer incidence in american indians and alaska natives

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's supplement to Cancer with a special collection of articles on AI/AN cancer incidence.

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Link Native cancer 101

Native American Cancer Research's updated modules of Native Cancer 101, a AI/AN cancer education and outreach curriculum.

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National Native Network overview of American Indian and Alaska Native cancer incidence and mortality, needs, and opportunities.

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PDF cancer 101

Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board's Northwest Tribal Cancer Control Project tribal cancer education and outreach curriculum.