Background: Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women. Although published studies have suggested that breast cancer rates among AI/AN women are lower than those among other racial and ethnic populations, accurate determinations of the breast cancer burden have been hampered by misclassification of AI/AN race.
Methods: Cancer incidence data from the National Program of Cancer Registries and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program were combined to estimate age-adjusted rates for the diagnosis years 1999 through 2004. Several steps were taken to reduce the misclassification of AI/AN race: linking cases to Indian Health Service (IHS) patient services database, restricting analyses to Contract Health Service Delivery Area counties, and stratifying results by IHS region.
Results: Breast cancer incidence rates among AI/AN women varied nearly 3-fold across IHS regions. The highest rates were in Alaska (134.8) and the Plains (Northern, 115.9; Southern, 115.7), and the lowest rates were in the Southwest (50.8). The rate in Alaska was similar to the rate among non-Hispanic white (NHW) women in Alaska. Overall, AI/AN women had lower rates of breast cancer than NHW women, but AI/AN women were more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease.
Conclusions: To the authors' knowledge, this report provides the most comprehensive breast cancer incidence data for AI/AN women to date. The wide regional variation indicates an important need for etiologic and health services research, and the large percentage of AI/AN women with late-stage disease demands innovative approaches for increasing access to screening.