Increase in Breast Cancer Among Alaska Native Women Appears To Be Slowing, Researchers Say
The 30-year increase in breast cancer rates among Alaska Native women appears to be leveling off, according to researchers making a presentation on Tuesday at a cancer symposium in Anchorage, Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
Breast cancer once was a rare occurrence among Alaska Native women, but the group's rate in Alaska now equals the rate of white women nationwide and is 50% higher than that of American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in other states, according to the Daily News.
According to new research, there were 40 breast cancer cases per 100,000 women among Alaska Natives from 1969 to 1973. That number increased to 138 cases per 100,000 women from 1994 to 1998, and then fell to 132 cases per 100,000 women from 1999 to 2004.
Janet Kelly, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, said that the findings might indicate that the increase is leveling off. However, she added, "I think you'd be hard-pressed to say there's anything (like a decline) going on yet."
A new report Kelly co-wrote with Anne Lanier, director of the consortium's research office, found that Alaska Native women's susceptibility to different types of cancer appears to vary by geographical region. The study looked at cancer in Alaska Natives from 1969 through 2003 and found that while breast cancer was the most prevalent type of cancer among Alaska Native women in Anchorage and the Interior, colorectal cancer was most prevalent among women in Barrow and coastal areas of western Alaska. The breast cancer rate in those areas was half the rate found in Anchorage.
Lanier said the small number of cancer cases in sparsely populated rural areas of Alaska makes it difficult to make statistically sound conclusions. She said, "This is a population that -- when I started working here 40-plus years ago -- we didn't even think cancer was a problem [in]," adding, "And what we have observed is a dramatic change ... particularly in lung cancer, but also in breast and prostate, which are also going up" (Bryson, Anchorage Daily News, 7/22).