8 Nov 2019

Significant barriers to cancer control in Pacific - researcher

10:59 am on 8 November 2019

More needs to be done to overcome significant barriers to cancer care in the Pacific, a leading researcher says.

Diana Sarfati, from New Zealand's Otago University, said the region was burdened by limited resources, small populations and its vast geography.

On top of that, people in the region suffer at an alarming rate from cancers that are largely preventable - like cervical cancer, or cancers that develop from obesity.

Diana Sarfati

Diana Sarfati Photo: supplied

Prof Sarfati, who recently led a large study on cancer control in the region for the journal Lancet Oncology, said there were significant barriers to treatment.

"Outside of Guam and French Polynesia, over the entire Pacific, there's one medical oncologist, no radiation oncologists and no access to radiation therapy at all. It shows the really big barriers in the Pacific in terms of cancer treatment."

While some barriers couldn't be overcome, things like better collaboration and more stable funding could reduce deaths dramatically, she said.

Most cervical cancer deaths in the Pacific were easily avoidable, she said.

Cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of death among women in the Pacific. That's despite it being greatly reduced in Australia and New Zealand because of vaccines and screening programmes.

"The next thing is we've got a sort of a Pan Pacific meeting being held in Fiji in about a month to look at how we can accelerate the progress towards eliminating cervical cancer.

"So, that's going to be looking at making sure the Pacific has access to HPV vaccination and also looking at options for introducing effective cervical screening across the region."