Cross-Cultural Cancer Prevention
Most Native American languages don't have a word for
"cancer." Translating the symptoms and communicating preventative
measures for the disease is nearly impossible when an entire population doesn't
even know what to call it.
Priscilla Sanderson, a Navajo assistant professor of
health sciences and applied indigenous studies, is researching ways to change
that through her work at Northern Arizona University and involvement in the Partnership for Native American Cancer
Sanderson works with the Hopi Nation to discover the best
channels of communication to share information about cancer. Sanderson's goal
is to help more Native Americans understand the importance of annual check-ups
and cancer screenings, and the resources available to them, so that they can
make health care decisions more quickly.
"At this point we don't have a cohesive, integrated
resource that's providing all these types of information," she says.
"We need a way to help patients and family members navigate treatment
options in their first language, whether it's Navajo or English."
Sanderson was also involved in a study that evaluated how
Navajo women reacted to a culturally-relevant informational video. In the study, 14 Navajo women diagnosed with
breast cancer viewed a video about breast cancer treatment options. The women
reported reduced anxiety about treatment and interest in cancer support groups
immediately after viewing the film.
One striking example of the video’s effectiveness involved
a Navajo woman who broke down in tears while watching the video. The woman’s
son, who had been translating for his mother, told a researcher, “She now
realizes…what’s going on.” Sanderson says that because the video was culturally
relevant to the group, it was an effective teaching tool that enhanced
communication between the patients and their health care providers.
"I look at the attitudes and beliefs that Native
people have, related to cancer. From there, we can design our educational
module to that population, age level, and gender," Sanderson says.
Sanderson has also recruited undergraduate, master’s, and
first-year medical students to help with her work, some of whom approach her
for her thoughts on additional research topics in Native American cancer treatment and prevention. Two John and
Sophie Ottens Native American undergraduate research scholars from Northern
Arizona University will join Sanderson in the field this summer, and visit
Native American communities to assist with focus group interviews.
Toward a better
quality of life
Sanderson was recently awarded a $6 million grant to lead
the new Center
for American Indian Resilience (CAIR) at Northern Arizona University. CAIR
will partner health researchers with tribal communities to draw from Native
American culture in designing health education programs. The program will also
encourage Native American youth to go to college and become researchers or
health professionals, with the hope that they will return to their communities
and provide health education or services to tribal members.
As she continues to tap into the knowledge, attitudes,
and belief systems related to cancer, Sanderson wants her work to help create a
better quality of life for Native Americans. She strives to be the link between
the fast-moving discoveries in the labs and the communication of those
discoveries to people on the Reservations.
"We need to have these two disciplines work closely
together," Sanderson says. "That's what I'm hoping I will be able to