SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Avera Health will now handle a research program that for years has worked to improve cancer cure rates and treatment among South Dakota’s Native American population through access to clinical trials, palliative care and screening for colorectal, cervical, breast and prostate cancer.
The announcement regarding the transfer of the 12-year Walking Forward program from Rapid City Regional Hospital to Avera came Friday in Sioux Falls. The program assists Native Americans who live in Rapid City and surrounding communities as well as the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Reservations.
The program was created to address the disparities in cancer care and prevention between Natives and non-Natives living in the Northern Plains, said Dr. Daniel Petereit, a radiation oncologist and the program’s principal investigator.
“Cancer for cancer, American Indians present with more advanced stages of disease, and therefore, experience lower cure rates,” Petereit said. “There are barriers that exist through lack of information or cultural difference that prevent individuals from getting preventable screening or from seeing the doctors soon after they notice a suspicious symptom such as a lump in the breast or persistent cough.”
The program has enrolled at least 4,000 Native Americans in clinical studies — the highest percentage of American Indians to participate in clinical trials in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute.
Petereit will continue to practice at Regional Hospital, but will work with Avera specifically on this program. The decision to move the program was primarily based on the access that participants will have to Avera’s growing molecular and experimental medicine program at the hospital’s cancer center in Sioux Falls. Both health systems, however, will collaborate on the treatment of patients.
The program’s most recent project focuses on smoking cessation with the ultimate goal of preventing lung cancer deaths. The project provides cellphones to participants who then receive tailored text messages, as well pre- and post-cessation counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 21.8 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives smoked cigarettes in 2012, compared with 18.1 percent of U.S. adults overall. In the Northern Plains, where the average age of smoking a first cigarette is 14, the rate increases to 44 percent among Native Americans.
Avera will now handle the $1.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute that the program has received for the smoking cessation project. The study hopes to enroll up to 256 individuals interested in quitting smoking who live in Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Rapid City.
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About 140 people are currently enrolled.