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Native American cancer patients often at disadvantage because of distance

Courtesy Centers for Disease Control
The study found Native people who live in rural areas must often uproot their lives to get treatment.

A new WSU study finds Native must drive long distances to get treatment.

Native American cancer patients are often at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving treatment because of where they live.

Washington State University researchers have published a new study that examines the hurdles those patients must overcome.

Solmaz Amiri from WSU’s College of Medicine says American Indian and Alaska Native patients who live on rural reservations must often drive significant distances to get to treatment centers for chemo or radiation therapy.

“When people are recommended to get this type of treatment, they have to go to a facility for up to eight weeks and the treatments are once or twice a day. So there is a burden in accessing those treatment facilities and completing the course of treatment," she said.

Whereas, Amiri says, people in other ethnic groups are more likely to live in urban areas that are closer to specialized treatment. She says Native patients often incur significantly greater expenses for lodging, food and the other things they need to live away from home for weeks at a time. Though Amiri’s research focused on Native patients, that’s sometimes true for non-Native rural residents as well.

Sometimes, she says, patients will instead choose more invasive surgeries that speed up the treatment process and allow them to go home to recover.

To remedy the problem, she proposes cancer centers develop alternatives for rural patients, such as mobile treatment units or offer them financial subsidies "like a free or discounted transportation or other services or maybe lodging benefits," she said.

Amiri’s research was published in the journal Value in Health.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.