Two important goals of cancer surveillance are to provide milestones in the effort to reduce the cancer burden and to generate observations that form the basis for cancer research and intervention for cancer prevention and control. Determination of the cancer burden among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) has been difficult largely due to lack of data collection efforts in many areas of the country and misclassification of racial data that results in undercounting of Native Americans. There is a revitalized commitment to improve data collection among the national agencies and organizations.
Data on cancer trends from 12 areas covered by the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program were reviewed for incidence and death rates for 1992–2000. AIAN trends were examined and compared with trends among other racial/ethnic population groups. Reference was made to studies of disease-specific survival for nine of the SEER areas for 1988–1997.
In SEER areas, cancer incidence rates for AIAN populations appeared to be decreasing significantly for lung and breast cancers among women and for prostate cancer among men. However, death rates rose, although not significantly, over the same period, except for a significant decrease in prostate cancer. Among the cancers with rising death rates were lung cancer (AIAN women) and colorectal cancer (AIAN men). In addition, survival often was lower for AIAN populations.
Although the incidence was stable or decreased among AIAN populations, increased death rates and lower survival rates indicate the need for intensified application of cancer prevention and control measures, including screening and treatment. Difficulties in interpretation of data include small population size and substantial interregional differences in rates. Cancer 2003;98:1262–72. Published 2003 by the American Cancer Society.