Cancer Within American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Populations

Photo of a woman with cancer, wearing a head covering, looking off into the distance.

Cancer Health Disparities Among AI/AN Populations

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveals cancer health disparities among Native people through surveillance and research.

AI/AN populations in the United States have unique cancer patterns due to their history and culture, where they live, how they get health care, and institutionalized racism. Many Native people live on reservation lands or in remote rural areas, where their primary health care is provided by a tribally operated health program or the Indian Health Service. Rural and urban Native people often experience more poverty, lower levels of education, and poorer housing conditions compared with the general US population. View the resources below to learn more about cancer in AI/AN communities.

Linking Cancer Data With the Indian Health Service

To improve the quality of cancer statistics for Native people, CDC routinely links cancer registry data and death certificate data with Indian Health Service registration data to identify Native people correctly. Many times, they are incorrectly reported as being members of other racial groups.

Two databases are produced:

You can explore the incidence data on the Rate of New Cancers in American Indian/Alaska Native module of the US Cancer Statistics Data Visualizations tool.

Assessing Disparities

CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control uses these databases to quantify cancer disparities among Native populations. This information can be used to develop targeted intervention strategies.

Native people have higher rates of colorectal, kidney, liver, lung, and stomach cancers than non-Hispanic White people. Between 1999 and 2015, incidence rates of liver, kidney, and female breast cancers increased significantly among Native people.1

CDC scientists are researching trends in leading cancers with higher incidence rates among Native people, including colorectal, stomach, and lung cancers, as well as the disparities in treatment for breast cancer. CDC scientists have studied cancer among the Navajo2 and among the Haudenosaunee Nations.3

Big Differences in AI/AN Who Get Certain Cancers

American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have much higher rates of getting lung, colorectal, liver, stomach, kidney, and other cancers compared with non-Hispanic White people in the United States.

There are also important differences in cancer incidence rates within the AI/AN regions in the United States. See the key findings and what can be done about it.

More Information

The Cancer Research Citation Search tool provides links to scientific articles authored or coauthored by scientists in CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

Several US Cancer Statistics Data Briefs highlight cancer incidence in American Indian and Alaska Native populations.


1Melkonian SC, Jim MA, Haverkamp D, et al.. Disparities in cancer incidence and trends among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, 2010–2015external icon. Cancer Epidem Biomark. 2019;28(10):1604–1611.

2Navajo Cancer Workgroup. Cancer Among the Navajo, 2005–2013pdf iconexternal icon. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Department of Health; 2018.

3Haring RC, Jim MA, Erwin D, Kaur J, Henry WAE, Haring ML, Seneca DS. Mortality disparities: a comparison with the Haudenosaunee in New York Stateexternal icon. Cancer Health Disparities. 2018;2.

Comprehensive cancer control (CCC) plans identify how an organization or coalition addresses the burden of cancer in its geographic area. The plans are specific to each region and based on data collected about people living there. They take the strategies that have worked, either in that region or in a similar place, and make them into a blueprint for action.

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is the second leading cancer killer in the United States; however, it doesn’t have to be. Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—so they can be removed before turning into cancer.

Groups who are less likely to be screened include men, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives, people aged 50 to 64 years, people who don’t live in a city, and those with lower education and income levels. The purpose of CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) is to increase colorectal cancer screening rates among people between 50 and 75 years of age.

Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection

To improve access to breast and cervical cancer screening, Congress passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990,external iconexternal iconexternal icon which directed CDC to create the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). Currently, the NBCCEDP funds 70 grantees—all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 6 US territories, and 13 American Indian/Alaska Native tribes or tribal organizations. Find out more about NBCCEDP.

Matter of Fact: AI/AN Cancer Health Disparities