Heart Disease Awareness & Cancer Prevention for American Indians

With February designated as Heart Disease Awareness and National Cancer Prevention Month, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is highlighting how these diseases affect American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Minority Health (OMH), cites for American Indian/Alaska Natives:

  • Cancer Death Rates per 100,000 – Men (2005-2009): 184.9
  • Cancer Death Rates per 100,000 – Women (2005-2009): 135.9
  • Age-Adjusted Heart Disease Death Rates per 100,000 – Men (2013): 152.3
  • Age-Adjusted Heart Disease Death Rates per 100,000 – Women (2013): 93.9

While heart disease and cancer are leading causes of death for other races, too, there are some striking disparities between American Indians/Alaskan Natives and their Caucasian counterparts in the U.S.  OMH reports that Native peoples have higher rates of several risk factors that can lead to heart disease:

  • Native/Alaska Native men are 20 percent more likely to be smokers than White men.
  • Native/Alaska Native adults are 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than White adults.
  • Native/Alaska Native adults are 60 percent more likely to suffer from obesity than non-Hispanic Whites.

Similarly, OMH reports that while Native peoples, in general, have lower cancer rates than Whites, they have higher percentages for some types of cancer:

  • Native/Alaska Native men are 1.6 times more likely to have stomach cancer than non-Hispanic White men, and more than twice as likely to die from it.
  • Native/Alaska Native women are 2.8 times more likely to have, and nearly twice as likely to die from, liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White women.
  • Native/Alaska Native women are 40 percent more likely to have kidney/renal pelvis cancer than non-Hispanic White women.

Health disparities related to heart disease and cancer for Native Americans are exacerbated by a lack of primary health care on many reservations. Preventative health care options are quite often limited to tribal-run wellness programs. Although the Indian Health Service (IHS) administered by HHS provides health services to federally recognized tribes, a shrinking federal budget has IHS treating only the most serious of cases, often limited to those experiencing “loss of life or limb” scenarios. Treatment options are further exacerbated by geographic isolation, limited transportation and impoverishment.

Heart Diseasae & Cancer Prevention 1 - Trail of Togetherness 222PWNA is proud to partner with tribal wellness programs on reservations throughout the Northern Plains and Southwest, programs that are tackling heart disease and cancer in their communities through screening, nutrition and education, and utilizing PWNA health services, such as Healthy Living and Community Events to boost client participation. The Community Health Program on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, the Jemez Diabetes Program of Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, and about a dozen other partner programs have hosted classes and health runs to raise awareness about heart disease and cancer prevention in the past few years. These preventative efforts may one day prevent those life or limb hospital trips for the people in their communities.

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