Drs. Katie Cueva and Jen Schmidt of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) traveled to Northwest Arctic Alaska to discuss cancer education for high school students. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the state, and Alaska Native people bear a disproportionate burden of mortality and cancer risk factors. Working with communities to understand and prevent cancer can help lower the unnecessary loss of life from this disease.

people gathered in a room, sitting facing a presentation at the front of a room

Dr. Katie Cueva presenting in rural Alaska

Funded through the American Indian/Alaska Native Clinical Translational Research Program, this ongoing project has three goals. The first is to identify culturally-relevant cancer education topics for high school aged youth in Northwest Alaska. The core of this project is rooted in community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) which aims to empower communities and support their plans of action. The investigators traveled to three communities, Noatak, Noorvik, and Kotzebue, and held listening circles in community spaces, at the schools, and at health clinics, talking with about 125 youth, teachers and school staff, community members, and health professionals. Discussions explored knowledge, perceptions, questions, concerns, and hopes for cancer education for youth. The investigators were also able to recruit a Community Advisory Board and hear first-hand how local educators and health professionals would like the curriculum content to be formatted so teachers could effectively implement it within their classrooms.

The listening circles informed the project’s next steps. Katie and Jen are currently using this feedback to work with the Community Advisory Board to develop cancer education for Alaska high school aged youth. Once drafted, the Community Advisory Board and key stakeholders will provide further feedback so they can continue to improve the project.

The third goal is to share project progress and results with community and key stakeholders. Throughout the project, the investigators will continue to seek opportunities to share information on the project and invite feedback from those who would be most impacted by the results.

It is their ultimate hope to support communities to significantly lower cancer incidence and mortality rates among Alaska Native people.