Roswell Park establishes new Center for Indigenous Cancer Research

Feb 6, 2020

As Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has moved out from its one location on the edge of downtown Buffalo to locations across the region, it has been doing some things differently.

One of the Roswell Park buildings on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus now houses the four members of the new Center for Indigenous Cancer Research. Director Rodney Haring said just in North America, that can include Indian nations like his own Seneca Nation, Inuit people from northern Canada and the Metis of Canada, and could expand much further.

Since many live in rural or really rural areas, cancer diagnosis and treatment can be complicated. Alaska Natives may have to fly to somewhere just for tests. Haring said there are real issues in paying for health care.

The four members of the new Center for Indigenous Cancer Research at Roswell Park.
Credit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

"Prisoners in the federal system actually receive greater funding than Native Americans living on reservations and using the Indian Health Service. So there's a disparity there, too, to understand how some of the services provided," Haring said. "What we're finding, too, is that we all need to work together for the health of our people, native and non-native, indigenous, non-indigenous."

Haring said cancer can be a strain on a patient or on that patient's family. However, many indigenous groups are "collectivist," so there can be lots of support from family members, neighborhoods, even people who didn't get along until cancer appeared.

He said there will be serious research into cancer in the indigenous community and how to utilize traditional health practices to help the patient through the often long and difficult process of cancer treatment.

"The research that we are conducting or intend to conduct at the guidance of our communities, the education that we are providing, whether it be to medical school or high school students or even younger, the vision is really how do we engage in a conversation to make sure that our seven generations are healthier, wiser, smarter, faster?" Haring said.

Project Coordinator Josie Raphaelito said the research will give the center better data on health problems, but there are other Natives out there working to improve health care on their reservation or improve their Nation's situation. Raphaelito said there are serious social problems on reservations.

"That doesn't account for the many Native Americans who are stepping into the roles of advocacy, and educating their non-Native peers and their teachers to try to improve education for some, or those who are stepping into the roles of different internships or fellowship programs that are like, I see the challenges in my community and I want to be part of the difference," Raphaelito said.