2 Jul 2018

Aggressive breast cancer more common among Pasifika

9:49 pm on 2 July 2018

Pasifika women in Aotearoa New Zealand are twice as likely to die from breast cancer than Palagi women.

A pink ribbon symbolising breast cancer

Photo: 123RF

That is the conclusion of new research from Waikato University that shows late presentation for diagnosis among Pasifika women is largely to blame for the discrepancy.

The research paper examined ways to improve the health of New Zealand women with breast cancer and included 12,500 women with the disease 850 of whom were Pasifika.

The lead researcher Ross Lawrenson said the data showed the biggest threat to Pasifika women was late diagnosis.

"The most important thing that we found was that almost thirty percent of Pasifika women had stage three or stage four disease at diagnosis," Professor Lawrenson said.

"So they're being diagnosed much later than New Zealand European women were with around 14 percent being diagnosed at stage three or stage four."

Pasifika women's higher risk of mortality from breast cancer was also due to socio-economic deprivation and lack of access to cancer care services, he said.

Professor Ross Lawrenson

Professor Ross Lawrenson Photo: SUPPLIED

But once diagnosed, Pasifika women recovered just as well as Palagi.

The research also found that Pasifika were three times more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer than Palagi.

Professor Lawrenson said the aggressive HER2-positive strain was more prominent among Pasifika women with 30 percent of Pasifika women with breast cancer being diagnosed with the strain.

"So they had a particular type of cancer which is more aggressive and normally in the general population is only around 10 to 11 percent of women have HER2-positive cancers," he said.

"So Pasifika women have poor outcomes because they have that particular cancer."

Cancer was also developing earlier in Pasifika women, with two thirds of them in the study diagnosed under the age of 60 compared with half of the Europeans contracting the disease below that age.

About half of Pasifika in the study were diagnosed while younger than 45 compared to less than a third of the Palagi women.

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Photo: 123RF

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