In May, Mayo Clinic’s Office of Health Disparities Research (OHDR) hosted a booth at the 6th annual Powwow for Hope in Minneapolis to provide outreach on cancer research to Native American communities. Co-sponsored by Mayo Clinic, this year’s event raised over $110,000 to support the American Indian Cancer Foundation’s work to provide cancer education and supportive services to American Indians.“Our presence at Powwow for Hope is a wonderful example of our outreach to advance research at Mayo Clinic that addresses the unmet health needs of communities,” says OHDR Co-director Gloria Petersen, Ph.D. “We connected with many individuals who are cancer patients and cancer survivors, as well as with other institutions that are interested in collaborating with Mayo Clinic to conduct health disparities research.”
A number of attendees who visited the Mayo booth were cancer survivors who wanted to help with research, and many shared positive feedback about their experiences as patients at Mayo Clinic. Sumedha Penheiter, Ph.D., OHDR program manager, distributed information on research activities conducted by OHDR’s Native American Research Outreach (NARO), as well as the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.
As a funded National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is committed to population health sciences, one of the many areas in which its researchers excel. This includes research focused on cancer health disparities, and particularly in the large region around Mayo Clinic campuses.
“We are particularly proud of our decades-long continuous commitment to cancer research and provision of cancer-related services with the American Indian and Alaska Native communities where our collaborations extend,” says Robert Diasio, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.
Addressing health inequities in Native American communities
Native American populations face some of the greatest health inequities in the U.S. Prevalence and death rates are higher than in white populations for many diseases.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Native American women and the second leading cause in men. Incidence and mortality rates vary by tribe and region, and are often much higher than in white populations. For example, in the Northern Plains region, the death rate from cervical cancer death rate is 4.2 times higher for American Indian and Alaska Native women than for white women, according to a 2014 report in the American Journal of Public Health.
Despite such disparities, Native American health issues remain under the radar as public health priorities, and communities face significant obstacles to prevention and treatment, according to Wesley Petersen, Ph.D., who directs the NARO program.
For over 20 years, NARO has conducted educational and research outreach on behalf of Mayo Clinic to tribes in the Upper Midwest, including collaborative projects on breast and colorectal cancer screening, prostate cancer treatment, and other research. In October, NARO will host a tribal conference at Mayo Clinic in Rochester to discuss strategies for addressing their community health priorities.
— Kris Schanilec, July 2017