Walking Forward aims to address gaps in cancer care among Native population

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A Lung Health Forum and Policy Symposium is being put on Wednesday and Thursday by the Walking Forward Program, which seeks to address disparities in cancer care between American Indian and non-American Indian populations in South Dakota.

Walking Forward aims to reduce disparities in cancer detection and treatmentAmerican Indians on the Northern Plains have one of the highest rates of death due to lung cancer in the US. Walking Forward, created in 2002 by Dr. Daniel Petereit, aims to use grants administered through Avera to increase cancer screening, detection, and therefore survival rates.

Wednesday’s event focused on lung cancer, which is a prominent problem for Native groups. Dr. Donald Warne, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, discussed prominent problems and their solutions.

“Unfortunately because I think we had a relationship with tobacco and smoking historically and culturally, our people were more prone to try cigarettes, and unfortunately as we know, nicotine is very addictive,” Warne explains.

Solutions to this problem are incredibly complex, but ending tobacco use begins with setting a positive example within native communities.

“What I would love to see is more advocates for our communities, more or our traditional healers that are so very respected in our communities and other elders and keepers of culture to recognize that commercial tobacco is not our way from a cultural perspective,” he adds.

Then, underfunding of the Indian Health Service has contributed to a lack of access to lung cancer screening technologies, which inhibits early detection. In addition to the disparities in the onset of lung cancer, there are also issues rooted in treatment access.

That’s where Walking Forward steps in, led by Dr. Daniel Petereit, a radiation oncologist at Monument Health, and the principal investigator of Walking Forward.

“Walking Forward was developed in an effort to lower the death rates through access to screening, early treatment, clinical trials, patient navigation is really the cornerstone of what we do,” says Petereit. “We have staff that live in Rosebud, Pine Ridge, and previously Cheyenne River.”

By finding ways to provide better access to scanning and then treatment, Walking Forward aims to start diminishing the disparities.

“Part of the Symposium is to try to influence policy nationally, so that Indian Health Service would cover the cost of an LDCT or a low-dose CT scan,” Petereit adds.

Representatives with Walking Forward also look to find ways to provide American Indian patients with efficient referrals to oncologists, as well as better transportation and payment options. By attacking the disparities in both prevention and treatment, the hope is to increase the detection and survival rate of lung cancer and other cancer varieties in Native communities.

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