Health statistics show that once diagnosed with cancer, American Indians have a lower five-year survival rate than any other group in the country.
"Part of it is due to lack of information, lack of access to high levels of health care, less access to treatment and underfunding of the Indian Health system," said Jeff Henderson, M.D., president and CEO of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health in Rapid City.
Organizers of the Northern Plains American Indian Cancer Summit, which begins Tuesday in Rapid City, S.D., hope raising awareness of the disease will help reverse that statistic.
Cancer researchers, leaders from 18 tribes and health department and health care professionals from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa will gather at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center on Tuesday and Wednesday to address the issue of how to better inform the Indian population about cancer.
Carole Anne Heart, executive director of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairman Health Board, said the summit will provide information on prevention and treatment.
The summit is the first of its kind to gather tribal leaders with local, state and national organizations.
"It's a historic event, because nothing of its kind has been promoted in this part of the country," she said.
Cancer is the third leading cause of deaths for Native Americans, behind unintentional death and heart disease, according to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 2002.
Heart said American Indians can lower their risk with something as simple as making the right dietary choices.
"We want people to be really aware of cancer and to manage their own health," she said.