Sanford cancer scientist aims to help American Indian women

Shawn Neisteadt
Sanford Health Media Relations
605-366-2432 /

SIOUX FALLS, S.D., Aug. 14, 2020 — A scientist at Sanford Health in the Cancer Biology and Immunotherapy group at Sanford Research is launching a two-part program against breast cancer. The program is possible through a Geographical Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program Region Six award, an initiative of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which is funded by the National Cancer Institute and aims to reduce cancer disparities in the Mountain West.

Shanta Messerli, Ph.D., will collaborate with several South Dakota American Indian communities, including the Flandreau Santee and Yankton Sioux Tribe, in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer with American Indian women. American Indian communities make up approximately 9 percent of South Dakota’s population.

This is a critically important step, as cancer is the leading cause of death among American Indian women. That population has the lowest screening rate for breast cancer in the United States and, as a result, a much higher mortality rate from breast cancer. Many of the women in the tribes have difficulty with both access and affordability of medical care.  Some of the women in the tribe live several hours away from the nearest hospital.

Messerli’s grant will aim to increase awareness of breast screening guidelines for American Indian women. It is currently recommended that American Indian women receive regular mammograms beginning at age 45. Those with an increased risk for breast cancer, such as a family history of the disease, should begin regular screenings at age 40.

In the laboratory, Messerli will investigate a new potential treatment for metastatic breast cancer, an aggressive and advanced form of breast cancer that has spread to further areas of the body.  This particular form of cancer is often resistant to standard treatments.

The grant’s community outreach program will work to educate American Indian women about the overall success of cancer therapies, with an emphasis on early detection and treatment. It will also educate on new screening options such as mobile web app technologies.

Messerli will collaborate with Soonhee Roh, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of social work at the University of South Dakota, and with the tribes’ community advisory board members.

About Sanford Health

Sanford Health, one of the largest health systems in the United States, is dedicated to the integrated delivery of health care, genomic medicine, senior care and services, global clinics, research and affordable insurance. Headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the organization includes 44 hospitals, 1,400 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and nine countries. Nearly $1 billion in gifts from philanthropist Denny Sanford have transformed how Sanford Health improves the human condition. For information, visit