Charlotte Hofer
Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger, scientist with Avera Research Institute, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, discusses HPV cancer rates among American Indian women at a conference for Indian health providers in South Dakota.

HPV Rates Up to Three Times Higher in American Indian Women Than US Population

Charlotte Hofer

“In American Indian women, the prevalence of HPV is up to 3 times higher than that of the general U.S. population,” said Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger, scientist with Avera Research Institute, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  “In the Northern Plains region, about 70 out of every 100 American Indian women between the ages of 18 to 24 carry the HPV virus. Vaccinating  girls and boys, along with Pap testing, means you can have a real impact because this is a cancer that’s preventable.” 

About 75 Cheyenne River Health Care providers, health department officials and others met in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on November 5, for a symposium on the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and related cancers. The meeting focused on the prevention of HPV-related cancers in the Northern Plains American Indian populations.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer. Native Americans in the Northern Plains suffer a disproportionate burden of cancer;  they have more cancer cases and deaths, compared to whites in the same region and Native Americans in other regions. Native American women in the Northern Plains are 2-3 times more likely to get cervical cancer than white women living in the same region.

Dr. Delf Schmidt-Grimminger, who has conducted cancer research in tribal communities on HPV, spoke at the symposium. He discussed the prevalence of the virus, the benefit of the new HPV vaccine and cultural specific education. Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger’s research was conducted at Cheyenne River and funded in part by the American Cancer Society.

Ann LeBeau, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member who works in Behavioral Health Counseling, talked about the need to get more information on prevention into the community.  “In my opinion,” LeBeau said, “people don’t know enough.  All people within the community need to be educated, and health care providers in particular need to be kept up- to-date.”

Another obstacle brought up at the meeting is the reluctance of patients to share personal information on their medical history with their provider. “Many have a problem trusting others with what they share,” LeBeau said.  

The need for more comprehensive education and tailoring that education to American Indian audiences are additional barriers that communities face. “We need more out-reach programs and education in the schools,” said Gayle Dupris, Residential Aid at the Women’s Half-way House at Cheyenne River.  “We need more culturally appropriate resources,” said Julie Ellingson, South Dakota Dept of Health.  Johanna Camacho, MD, added, “People aren’t educated on HPV or cancer in general—and on how to prevent it.”

The American Cancer Society hopes to encourage health care providers to educate their communities on cancer and to continue the discussion on barriers to prevention.

“We want to continue sharing what we’ve learned with other communities,” said Schmidt-Grimminger.  “And we hope to find further funding to continue the HPV vaccine interventions so that we can save more lives.”

Each year, lives are lost due to cancer.  This year in the United States, there will be over 500,000 deaths from cancer. 

“Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American Indians over age 45,” said Arlene St. John-Black Bird, who works in Women’s Health at Cheyenne River. “It’s one of the greatest health care issues in Indian country.” 

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
If our people of all ages would stop behaving disgraceful, dishonorable & shamefully, we would not be having this problem going on. Young people of both genders, stop this shameful living & carrying on I see all over the place. I never get so tired of reading birth announcements & very rarely do I see anyone being married who are producing these children. So many want to play house BEFORE that ceremony, either carried out by our spiritual leaders, a Justice of the Peace, Judge, minister, etc. This is wrong! You bring shame upon yourselves, your family, clans & tribes & most of all, to the Creator when you act like this. Those children you are bringing into this world deserve parents who are honorable, respectable & bring pride of a good way to the Creator. Stop carrying on like wild animals in heat with no self-respect or common decency! Stop these careless lifestyles I see in so many places. If you want to play house then put a ring on it young men! If you want to be a mother, don't give yourself away for nothing young ladies & demand respect from those young men & get that ring on that finger & have that marriage certificate FIRST; not after the fact. Mothers & fathers out here, do the right thing & set that daily example of what it is to be a good man or good woman. Those children are looking to YOU for the answers in all things. Those of you who ARE living in a good way & being honorable; I praise you for setting that daily example to your children & those in your care. The Great Spirit rewards those who bring Him honor through living lives of honor, respect & decency.

nokomis's picture
Submitted by nokomis on
The comment made by Two Bears Growling is unquestionable ignorance and it's conflicting to what many adults think. We don't think sex is normal for teens and what do you think teenagers talk about among their friends? One reason for failure as a society is the sexual content of our media (MTV, Miley Cyrus, Dawson's Creek, and reruns of Beverly Hills 90210) where teenagers take it as for what's normal? There are high-risk kids everywhere and in every community and parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents in Indian Country need to communicate with their kids about safe and healthy sex to counteract the problem. Giving HPV vaccines is not the solution either because of the potential serious health risks. If find it ironic that the conservative Christian mentality, such as the Murdock empire are guiltiest of packaging and selling shows promoting teenage sex, promiscuity, and underage drinking. So the question is how did we get to this point and what are we going to do about it?

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Nokomis, What I find disturbing is that you feel people cannot live wakan in their daily lives. As far as my comment being "ignorant", it is FAR from such a thing. The reason kids are talking about such things is because there is next to no parental responsibility going on in so many places. Too many parents want to be "friends" with their kids instead of the disciplinarians & authoritarians they should be. Too many children have far too much unsupervised time on their hands. That is when kids start getting into trouble. Children who are raised in a home where living wakan is a way of life & BOTH parents are raising them as such, setting that daily example of what it is to be decent, honorable, respectable & respectful men & women is all about. Too many adults want to make excuses as to why things are the way they are in their homes instead of living as our Creator set forth for our lives in the beginning. Live a life that brings honor to Wankantanka & I can guarantee you are not going to have to worry about getting STD's yourself or from others either! Our many peoples are going to have to get serious about living in a good way or not one thing is going to straighten up in our native communities. Seek the ways of goodness of our ancestors. It is all there if our people will just seek it out. I have be called many things, but ignorant is not one of them my friend. I refuse to make excuses & accept any from those who are NOT living in a good way. We are ALL here to serve the Great Spirit & not make excuses for NOT living lives that are wakan.

LW's picture
Submitted by LW on
I agree partly with what both of you are saying, both of you make sense. I don't buy into the whole 'marriage' ideal but that's my own opinion. Let me ask you this, what are YOU doing in your community? You speak very strong words and seem to have it all summed up. I hope you are 'walking the walk'. Let's not point the finger, let's lead by example and show our young what they need to know.