NZ falling behind in cancer survival rates

File photo/SunLive.

New Zealand is falling behind other comparable countries, including Australia, on cancer survival, according to a new study released today.

The Lancet Oncology study looked at survival against seven key cancers in seven high-income countries, including New Zealand, from 1995 to 2014.

It says survival improved at both the one-year and five-year marks in each country across almost all cancer types.

But the study says that in the latest period, from 2010 to 2014, the highest one-year survival for most cancers was in Australia, followed by Canada and Norway.

The lowest survival a year after diagnosis was seen for stomach, colon, rectal and lung cancer in the UK, and for oesophageal cancer in Canada, pancreatic cancer in New Zealand and ovarian cancer in Ireland.

Over the 19 years, larger survival improvements were seen for patients under 75 at diagnosis than those over that age.

This was especially so for cancers with a poor prognosis - cancer of the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas and lung.

On lung cancer, which is this country's biggest cancer killer, 15.5 percent of patients diagnosed with this cancer between 2010 and 2014 survived five years.

This is compared to 21.4 percent in Australia where survival chances improved by 8.1 percent over the study period, compared to 4 percent in New Zealand.

On colon cancer - another major killer here - 62 percent of New Zealanders diagnosed survived at five years, against 70.8 percent in Australia.

Survival with colon cancer improved by 11.2 percent in Australia over the almost 20-year period compared to 2.8 percent in New Zealand. Denmark was top on 16.6 percent.

On difficult pancreatic cancer, survival in this country showed lowest improvement of all over the two decades, at -0.6 percent.

This was compared to 8.2 percent in Australia, 4.1 percent in Canada and 4.6 percent improvement in the UK.

New Zealand improved most on rectal cancer, but this was still the lowest improvement among the seven countries.

The Cancer Society says the research showed that New Zealand is near the bottom for cancer survival compared to other countries with similar healthcare systems.

Its medical director, Chris Jackson says: "New Zealand's rate of improvement is the worst for almost every cancer type studied and we are in the bottom two for pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancer survival rates. Only oesophageal cancer is above average."

He says the study follows a 2018 study that showed while New Zealand performed well compared to low and middle-income countries, it is behind other more similar countries.

"This new study shows that not only are we behind our comparator countries, progress has stalled and similar countries are accelerating ahead of us."

Dr Jackson says early detection - such as screening for bowel cancer - is key, along with early access to diagnostic tests and timely access to effective treatment such as PET scanning.

Specialist cancer centres for highly complex cancer surgery (such as lung, pancreas and oesophageal) and better access to clinical trials had helped other countries accelerate past New Zealand in cancer survival rates.

Dr Jackson added that New Zealand performs at world-leading rates for child cancer because if has specialist centres, access to the drugs needed, clear standards of care, high engagement in clinical trials and strong leadership.

He says this country's new national cancer plan, announced in the last fortnight, comes "not a moment too soon". But he said this country's cancer programme needs a redesign and good funding.

More details about the cancer plan, including the new national cancer agency, are to be announced by December 1.

-RNZ/Karen Brown.

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