AFN National Chief Atleo’s Statement On World Cancer Day

by NationTalk on February 4, 20101468 Views


OTTAWA, Feb. 4 – Today, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo issued the following statement in recognition of World Cancer Day.

“We are all affected by the crisis of cancer. It is a leading cause of death worldwide. We have fundamental reasons to step up our efforts in prevention, care and treatment of this disease. Last year in Canada, 171,000 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer and over 75,000 died from the disease. While in the past cancer was relatively rare in First Nations, common cancers such as breast, prostate, lung and colorectal have increased remarkably over the last several decades in many First Nation communities.Cancer has become the leading cause of death for First Nations in some regions. It is the third leading cause of death among First Nations as a whole with the incidence of cancer rising faster in First Nation communities than in the general population

First Nations tend to be diagnosed at late stages of the disease because there are low rates of participation in organized cancer screening programs – if programs are in fact even available. Medical transportation to screening appointments is not currently covered by NIHB unless the appointment is made in conjunction with another medical appointment. Cancer survival rates tend to be worse for First Nation populations because patients are likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of the disease.

On World Cancer Day we need to share stories, not only of sickness, but of hope. If we hope to win the fight against cancer, we must raise awareness and that means educating our people about how to lower their risk and prevent cancer. We also need to show people that there is no shame in talking about cancer. Many First Nations are reluctant to talk about cancer and there is much misinformation that needs to be dispelled. There should be no more stigma in talking about cancer than there is in talking about the common cold. There was a time when a cancer diagnosis gave little hope, but today, earlier detection means getting help more quickly. A third of cancers could be cured if detected early and treated adequately.

This year the theme for World Cancer Day is “Cancer can be prevented too”. The focus is on how the risk of developing cancer can significantly be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices. More than 30% of cancer could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors. According to the World Health Organization, the main measures to help prevent cancer are to maintain a healthy weight through eating well, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking, and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke. In fact, commercial tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of cancer in the world. Smoking rates for First Nations are almost 60%, and yet the federal government cut the First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Strategy in 2006.

Although risk factors are the same for all, for First Nations the social determinants of health such as poverty, food security, inadequate housing, poor access to safe drinking water, lack of fresh foods, and exposure to environmental contaminants must be addressed. These inequities should weigh on the conscience of Canada and the world. First Nation leadership is committed to building the health infrastructure that is needed to treat our sick. This means improved access to family doctors, hospitals and medical equipment, more training for nurses and doctors, and more culturally appropriate resource materials for prevention and screening.

While we know that early detection of cancer through screening of healthy populations has been proven effective in reducing mortality and morbidity from cervical, breast and colorectal cancers, leadership must focus on ensuring a patient and community-centered approach for First Nations to learn about cancer prevention, control of lifestyle risk factors, screening methods and why it is important to their health and that of future generations. Adequate and sustained resources are vital to ensuring that First Nations come to accept screening and participate at higher levels.

The AFN is working closely with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer to develop an action plan on cancer control. The AFN also works cooperatively with the Canadian Cancer Action Network that aims to ensure the patient voice perspective is represented and brought into the policy-making process.

AFN is determined to bring cancer issues to the forefront to effect policy change that will reduce the number of First Nations cancer cases, enhance the quality of life for First Nations citizens affected by cancer, and lessen the likelihood of First Nations citizens dying from cancer.”

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

For further information: Karyn Pugliese, Acting Communications Director at (613) 292-1877 or kpugliese[at]

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