The American Indian Cancer Foundation’s Pink Shawls Project, funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is a breast cancer campaign that brings women together to create shawls to use as educational and awareness tools. (Courtesy photo)
Published February 13, 2018
WASHINGTON – Award-winning American Indian author Jim Northrup died from cancer recently, which caused shockwaves throughout the entire community. Northrup’s death from cancer at just 73 raises many questions about the extremely high rates of terminal cancer in the Native American population.
Native Americans are the second most likely group to experience mesothelioma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, little research has been done into why. And little has been done to educate the population on the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Why is Mesothelioma So High in Native Americans?
Native Americans suffer from peritoneal mesothelioma for much the same reason as white people. Whites have the highest reports of mesothelioma. To understand that you need to grasp the fact that mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure.
Many Native Americans work blue collar jobs. This likely increased their exposure to asbestos in the past. The long latency period of 20-50 years means that the true extent of asbestos exposure among American Indians is only becoming apparent now.
Dumping on Native Lands
Native lands have commonly been used as a dumping ground for industrial waste products. It’s why lawsuits against the US government, state governments, and corporations have been constant. A recent example of this is regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It’s not inconceivable to believe that some Native American populations were exposed to asbestos at some point through these kinds of activities.
The Need to Raise Awareness
The level of understanding of cancer has been notoriously poor, and this has been recognized. A recent conference called the 2017 Spirit of EAGLES National Conference adopted the theme of the changing patterns of cancer. It was sponsored by both the Mayo Clinic and Roswell Park.
It was just one part of a campaign to raise understanding and awareness of all types of cancer among the Native American population.
It’s not just mesothelioma that American Indians are seeing a rise of. It’s all types of cancers, including colon cancer and lung cancer. By the time these cancers are discovered it’s too late for Native Americans to get the treatment they need to stop the damage.
Urgency is Required
We briefly mentioned the fact that mesothelioma has a latency period of up to 50 years. Asbestos was finally phased out some decades ago. It’s highly likely that we’re going to see an explosion in the number of mesothelioma cases in the Native American population soon.
With it being such a deadly type of cancer, a quick diagnosis and immediate action is necessary to prevent death and to enjoy a high quality of life.
Increasing awareness is now the top priority for helping the American Indian population.
Last Word – Change is Possible
It’s possible to spread awareness and to initiate change now. A healthier American Indian community is not out of the question. But action needs to be taken.
What do you think has to be done to address mesothelioma in Native American populations? To learn more about mesothelioma in general check out this link to a page that focuses on the peritoneal form of the disease.: https://survivingmesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/peritoneal/. You can find out about other forms of mesothelioma as well as treatments and information to help you beat the disease.