BACKGROUND: The National Cancer Institute established two Native American cancer control research networks. These networks were created to develop and promote a cadre of cancer prevention and control scientists to conduct culturally sensitive research among Native American populations (i.e., American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and American Samoan). The primary objective of these research efforts is to reduce morbidity and mortality from cancer. Toward reaching this objective, the networks have (1) conducted research, (2) affiliated with or stimulated other groups to conduct research, or (3) facilitated research by encouraging the training of new researchers of Native American origin to promote prevention and early detection as well as state-of-the-art treatment among their people. METHODS: The networks are organized and financially supported by the NCI. Members of the network have established working committees that follow up on tasks identified during the meetings. RESULTS: Accomplishments of these networks have been recorded between 1990 and 1996. Two strategic plans for cancer control research among American Indians and Alaska Natives have been drafted and disseminated. One of the plans was designed for federal agencies and the other for state health departments. The networks have conducted three national surveys regarding native peoples' access to cancer prevention and control services and conducted two national Native American cancer conferences. The Native Hawaiian/American Samoan Task Force was established in 1992 due to the high incidence and mortality statistics for cancer in these populations. CONCLUSIONS: Through support mechanisms such as those implemented by the NCI, independent networks can be created to advocate actively for cancer prevention and control efforts within Native American communities, among nonnatives, and within professional organizations and governmental agencies.