President's Cancer Panel Urges Increased Services for Native Americans
Native American cancer incidence and mortality rates have been on the rise over the past 30 years, with American Indian and Alaska Native cancer survival rates among the lowest of any U.S. ethnic group. As a result, the President's Cancer Panel has issued a report, Facing Cancer in Indian Country: The Yakama Nation and Pacific Northwest Tribes, calling for increased access to cancer screening and treatment for Native Americans, a segment of the population in which cancer appears to occur less frequently but most often is fatal.
"We must not shirk the responsibility of our Government to provide necessary cancer and other health care to the first Americans," remarked former panel chairman Dr. Harold P. Freeman. Unfortunately, as the report notes, "For many American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Pacific Northwest region of our Nation, lack of cancer screening and treatment - or dangerously delayed care - is the norm, not the exception." Identified barriers to cancer care for Native Americans include inadequate health services funding, gaps in the health care infrastructure, cultural issues, information and training needs, and geographic obstacles.
The panel also offered recommendations to address these barriers, such as increased funding for the Indian Health Service, better coordination among the HHS agencies that pay for or deliver health care to Native Americans, "patient navigator" programs to help Native American cancer patients access cancer treatment and supportive services, improved efforts to gather data on the cancer burden for all Native Americans, and research into the possible relationship between radioactive and chemical contaminants and cancer - a particular concern to the tribes in the area of the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington state and the surrounding Columbia River Basin.
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Scientists Highlight Insights from Chemical Approaches to Biology and Genomics
In his opening address, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni underscored the importance of having new ways to teach chemistry and apply it to biological problems. He delivered a quote by Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Dr. John Fenn: "The way we teach chemistry today is not designed to ignite the young mind, but to cremate it." Participants in the symposium shared a common vision of bringing chemistry and genomics together in innovative ways to make fundamentally new discoveries in biology and medicine.
Topics of special interest to the cancer research community included the work of Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi of Berkeley in targeting sugars and proteins on tumor cells for in vivo imaging, Dr. Steven Fesik of Abbott Laboratories on development of small molecule drugs as inhibitors of tumor growth and metastasis, and Dr. Baldomero Olivera of the University of Utah in developing a natural product inhibitor that could be used as a painkiller for cancer patients and those with chronic pain. The full agenda and Web cast of the symposium is available at http://genome.gov/11008534.