'Lack of Awareness about Cancer Prevention and Detection'cited as top cancer concern among 16 tribes in Northern Plains

FLANDREAU, S.D. - In recent weeks, tribal meetings have been held throughout the northern Plains (South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska) to determine what can be done to address the cancer burden among American Indians. Members of the Northern Plains Comprehensive Cancer Coalition were working on a draft of a Cancer Plan for American Indians, but wanted an opportunity to work directly with tribes to hear their community concerns. The coalition represents many groups - including tribes in the Northern Plains, IHS, State Departments of Health, universities and cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society.

Leah Frerichs, NPCC program manager, and Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society were interviewed about the tribal meetings. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

Charlotte Hofer: How many meetings have occurred and who has participated in the meetings?

Leah Frerichs: We have held 16 meetings. One is currently being planned for late June in Iowa, and we would like to hold one more in July in North Dakota.

Roberta Cahill: The meetings have varied by tribe. Some of the meetings had community cancer survivors in attendance, others had more of the health care providers, and some consisted of tribal health leaders and health committee members.

Hofer: What seems to be the most significant concern about cancer throughout the northern Plains?

Frerichs: Overall, an issue that came up at almost every single meeting was the need to promote more awareness and provide more education to the tribal communities about cancer since it is a feared illness and many think of it as only a death sentence. There seemed to be a desire to promote the preventive aspects of cancer through healthy lifestyles and cancer screenings on a regular basis.

Cahill: I agree; overall there seems to be a desire for more education about cancer and what resources are available, and developing better ways to help people connect with those. The importance of and need for cancer screenings was emphasized so individuals can be diagnosed earlier with a better outcome for survival. Another thing we heard was the importance of preventing cancer through healthy lifestyle choices, and that that needs to be a focus for all age groups. Funding for treatment continues to be a concern for many areas, as well as access to cancer treatment - depending on location of the tribe.

Hofer: What happens from here?

Cahill: We want to review all the input from the meetings and determine the major themes and issues that come up, and make those our focus area in the next several years.

Hofer: What has been the most beneficial aspect of holding these meetings?

Frerichs: One benefit was to learn that there are many common cancer concerns that people can hopefully work together on through the Northern Plains Cancer Coalition. Another benefit was to meet new people and hear in-person the strengths and challenges they face in cancer prevention and control.

Cahill: To learn that cancer issues are prevalent and must be addressed by many people and organizations on many fronts - from prevention, early detection, treatment, palliation and survivorship.

Hofer: Why is this important to all Native Americans, not just those on the northern Plains?

Cahill: One program or organization alone cannot expect to remedy all of the cancer prevention and control problems, so we hope that if we continue to try to bring people together through this cancer control plan, people will be better able to work together and fit their work into the large web of comprehensive cancer care. The plan is important because we need to lay out this web of issues in an organized manner so we can be more effective with the limited resources we have.

For cancer information any time, contact the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org or (800) ACS-2345. For information on the community meetings, contact Leah Frerichs, NPCC program manager at epifrerichs@aatchb.org or call (605) 721-1922 ext. 110.