Cancer patients more likely to die in NZ

MYLES HUME
Last updated 11:07 15/08/2014

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Hundreds of New Zealand cancer patients would not have died from the illness if they were faced with the same battle in Australia, according to a leading researcher.

Studies published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today reveal death rates from cancer in New Zealand patients were 10 per cent higher than our Australian counterparts.

Researchers studied and compared the cancer incidence and death rates in both countries for the years 1996-97 and 2006-07.

The report found for 11-year timeframe, cancer-specific death rates decreased in both countries and cancer mortality fell in both countries. But there was no change in the difference between the death rates New Zealand and Australia, which remained remained 10 per cent higher in New Zealand.

In the publication's editorial, University of Otago professor David Skegg said New Zealand experienced more deaths from cancer that would be expected, and pointed to worrying figures.

"If the Australian rates had applied here, there would have been 616 fewer cancer deaths each year among New Zealand women, and 215 fewer in men. The majority of excess deaths were in people under 70 years of age," he said.

Almost 8000 New Zealanders die of cancer each year on average, figures from a 2000 to 2007 study show.

The main cancer sites responsible for the overall excess mortality were colorectual cancer in both men and women, and lung and breast in females. Every year, about 350 Kiwis die from bowel cancer who would not if the Australian rates were applied here.

"The higher mortality from all cancers combined cannot be attributed to higher incidence rates, and this suggests that overall patient survival is lower in New Zealand," Skegg said.

He said it was encouraging to see between 1990 and 2007, the overall cancer death rate declined by about 24 per cent in men and 20 per cent in women.

The study, A comparison of cancer statistics in New Zealand and Australia: 1996-2007, concluded differing cancer death rates was partly due to lifestyle and different ethnic populations, as well as New Zealanders presenting with more advanced cancers and having harder access to some treatments.

"Until we know the relative contributions of these factors, it will be difficult for New Zealand to plan interventions in the future which have a good chance of lifting our cancer survival rates to those of our closest neighbour. The collection of clinical stage on all new cancer registrations would provide the base information required," the study said.

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Between 2000 and 2007, the study showed colorectum and anus cancer rates were 35 per cent higher in New Zealand women compared with Australia, and 24 per cent high in Kiwi men.

Meanwhile, lung cancer deaths were 20 per cent higher in New Zealand women compared with their Australian counterparts, but between men the rate was similar.

New Zealand's breast cancer mortality rate was almost 19 per cent higher during that period.

Both countries have population-based screening programs, starting in Australia in 1991 and in New Zealand in 1998, offering twice-yearly mammographic screening.

It has been estimated in the New Zealand programme, deaths were reduced by as much as 40 per cent in women participating in the screening.

- The Press

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