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Perceptions of Cancer Causes, Prevention, and Treatment Among Navajo Cancer Survivors

Journal of Cancer Education
Jennifer W. Bea, Hendrik ‘Dirk’ de Heer, Brian Kinslow, Luis Valdez, Etta Yazzie, Pearl Curley, Shelby Dalgai, Anna L. Schwartz
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Native Americans experience cancer-related health disparities. Yet, little is known about the current cancer experience in one of the largest Native American tribe, Navajo. A qualitative study of among Navajo cancer survivors, in which focus groups and individual interviews included questions related to perceptions of cancer causes, prevention, and treatment, allowed us to evaluate several aspects of the cancer experience from the Navajo perspective. An experienced, bilingual facilitator led the discussions using a standardized guide. Discussions were audio-recorded, documented by field notes, translated, as needed, and transcribed. NVivo software was used to summarize major themes according to the PEN-3 and health belief models. Navajo cancer survivors (N = 32) were both males (n = 13) and females (n = 19) that had been previously diagnosed with a variety of cancers: colorectal, breast, ovarian, cervical, esophageal, gall bladder, stomach, prostate, kidney, and hematologic. Many survivors had accurate knowledge of risk factors for cancer. Barriers to screening and clinical care included language, expense, geography, fear, lack of information, skepticism related to Western medicine, and treatment side effects. While some survivors experienced familial support, others were isolated from the family and community due to the perspective of cancer as a contagion. However, resilience, hope, trust in select community organizations, a desire to restore balance, and to support younger generations were positive attributes expressed regarding the treatment and recovery process. These evaluations need to be replicated across a larger cross-section of the Native cancer survivor community.

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