Bone cancer more deadly in NZ

Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014
Cancer specialists Dr Ruth Spearing and John Carson

LOW SURVIVAL RATE: Cancer specialists Dr Ruth Spearing and John Carson, with the X-rays of a young cancer patient’s artificial knee.

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Young adults suffering cancerous bone tumours in New Zealand are less likely to survive the disease than their peers overseas, a study has found.

University Of Otago students Victoria Utley and Angela Zhang analysed cancer diagnosis and survival rates for young adults between 2000 and 2009.

While the overall incidence of malignant bone tumours was relatively rare, their research showed the disease had the lowest rate of survival five years after diagnosis - only 46 per cent for 15 to 19 year-olds and 31 per cent for those aged 20 to 24.

New Zealand's survival rates were half that of Australia's and considerably lower than those in America ( 63 per cent), Scotland (67 per cent) and Canada (68 per cent).

Cancer specialist Dr Ruth Spearing, who supervised the project, said the study highlighted the need for young people to be given access to international clinical trials.

Similar moves to combat adult leukaemia helped survival rates climb from only 2 per cent in 1989 to 42 per cent within seven years.

"It really highlights just how important being involved in cutting-edge, modern treatment [is]. We've got to get up to international standards."

Last month, Health Minister Tony Ryall announced an extra $650,000 over two years to help improve cancer services for young people.

It was hoped the funds, which included the development of a national clinical network, would help health professionals understand why New Zealand's rates were so far below international standards.

"These are the things that are actually going to change survival [rates]," Spearing said.

Sixteen-year-old Elliot Dowie was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer, Ewing's sarcoma, in 2012. The year 12 pupil underwent a full knee replacement in November 2012 and endured months of chemotherapy.

Mum Louise Dowie said Elliot was now doing well, but the seriousness of his disease hit home when another boy he knew with the same condition and of the same age died last year.

"He just didn't respond to the chemotherapy . . . this is why the research is so important," she said. "We were just very lucky that we saw the right professionals at the right stage of this journey and got early diagnosis and early treatment."

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- The Press


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