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Cancer among Minnesota Indians extremely high

Cancer rates among American Indians in Minnesota are 30 percent higher than previously reported, the state's Department of Health disclosed on Tuesday.

Based on data from 1998 to 2002, the cancer rate among American Indians was 538.1 cases per 100,000 people. This was well above the statewide average of 475.1 cases per 100,000.

But just a year ago, the state reported a much lower figure. Based on data from 1996 to 2000, the cancer rate among American Indians was 398.0 cases per 100,000.

The new data means there is about a 30 percent increase in the number of American Indians who are afflicted with breast, colon, lung and other cancers, the state said.

The difference between the two figures is significant in more than one way. Going by last year's report, African-Americans and Whites suffered from cancer far more than American Indians.

In fact, the opposite is true, according to the new data. American Indians -- particularly males -- suffer from the highest rate of cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the state.

The disparity, however, is not due to an increase in cancer risks to American Indians, the state said. Instead it is due to a change in the way the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS) collects data about race and ethnicity.

By working with the Indian Health Service, the state found out that some people in the MCSS who were classified as another race were actually American Indian. Doing this meant that cancer rates among American Indians increased.

"Because this collaboration enabled persons who had been reported to MCSS as another race to be correctly reclassified as American Indian, cancer incidence among American Indians in Minnesota is about 30 percent higher than previously reported, and cancer rates among other race groups (primarily whites) are marginally lower," the report said.

The state has yet to perform the same method with regard to cancer deaths. But according to last year's report, American Indians are already more likely to die from cancer than other racial or ethnic groups.

"Cancer mortality among American Indians as 88 percent higher in Minnesota than in the U.S. as a whole, and many of the cancer sites with elevated rates were smoking-related," the report from 2004 stated.

About 55,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives live in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They make up about 1.1 percent of the state population.

Minnesota, home to 11 federally recognized tribes, stands out in comparison to the national cancer rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives. According to a 2003 report from the National Cancer Institute, fewer Native Americans are suffering from the disease.

For Native men, the incidence rate for all types of cancers dropped from nearly 350 cases per 100,000 in 1993 to around 250 cases in 2000. For Native women, the rate fell from 250 cases to 200 over the same period. Death rates among Native men and women also slowed, according to the same report.

Several factors contribute the development of cancer. Tobacco use and obesity, both of which are significant problems in Indian Country, can increase the risk.

Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System Reports:
Cancer in Minnesota by Race and Ethnicity, 1998-2002: Preliminary Report (April 2005) | Cancer Disparities in Minnesota (February 2004)

Relevant Links:
Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System -