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HPV Rates Up to Three Times Higher in American Indian Women Than US Population

“In American Indian women, the prevalence of HPV is up to 3 times higher than that of the general U.S. population,” said Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger, scientist with Avera Research Institute, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “In the Northern Plains region, about 70 out of every 100 American Indian women between the ages of 18 to 24 carry the HPV virus. Vaccinating girls and boys, along with Pap testing, means you can have a real impact because this is a cancer that’s preventable.” 

About 75 Cheyenne River Health Care providers, health department officials and others met in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on November 5, for a symposium on the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and related cancers. The meeting focused on the prevention of HPV-related cancers in the Northern Plains American Indian populations.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer. Native Americans in the Northern Plains suffer a disproportionate burden of cancer; they have more cancer cases and deaths, compared to whites in the same region and Native Americans in other regions. Native American women in the Northern Plains are 2-3 times more likely to get cervical cancer than white women living in the same region.

Dr. Delf Schmidt-Grimminger, who has conducted cancer research in tribal communities on HPV, spoke at the symposium. He discussed the prevalence of the virus, the benefit of the new HPV vaccine and cultural specific education. Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger’s research was conducted at Cheyenne River and funded in part by the American Cancer Society.

Ann LeBeau, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member who works in Behavioral Health Counseling, talked about the need to get more information on prevention into the community. “In my opinion,” LeBeau said, “people don’t know enough. All people within the community need to be educated, and health care providers in particular need to be kept up- to-date.”

Another obstacle brought up at the meeting is the reluctance of patients to share personal information on their medical history with their provider. “Many have a problem trusting others with what they share,” LeBeau said.

The need for more comprehensive education and tailoring that education to American Indian audiences are additional barriers that communities face. “We need more out-reach programs and education in the schools,” said Gayle Dupris, Residential Aid at the Women’s Half-way House at Cheyenne River. “We need more culturally appropriate resources,” said Julie Ellingson, South Dakota Dept of Health. Johanna Camacho, MD, added, “People aren’t educated on HPV or cancer in general—and on how to prevent it.”

The American Cancer Society hopes to encourage health care providers to educate their communities on cancer and to continue the discussion on barriers to prevention.

“We want to continue sharing what we’ve learned with other communities,” said Schmidt-Grimminger. “And we hope to find further funding to continue the HPV vaccine interventions so that we can save more lives.”

Each year, lives are lost due to cancer. This year in the United States, there will be over 500,000 deaths from cancer. 

“Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American Indians over age 45,” said Arlene St. John-Black Bird, who works in Women’s Health at Cheyenne River. “It’s one of the greatest health care issues in Indian country.”