The Cancer Society says 2500 more New Zealanders would have survived cancer if they had lived in Australia.
It's calling for major changes to cancer planning and co-ordination in New Zealand, based on the findings of a new international study published in the Lancet medical journal last month.
The Concord-3 study analysed the records of 37.5 million patients diagnosed with 18 cancers from 2000 to 2014.
Cancers covered were oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, lung, breast (women), cervix, ovary, prostate, and melanoma of the skin in adults; and brain tumours, leukaemias and lymphomas in both adults and children.
New Zealand comes out among the top eight countries of the world with the highest five-year net survival for most cancers.
But Australia did better, according to the data on some of the most common cancers in New Zealand, notably colorectal, lung, melanoma, breast (women) and prostate.
Five-year survival rates for these cancers for Australia and New Zealand are, respectively: colorectal: 70.9 percent (Aust), 65 (NZ); lung: 19.4, 15.3; breast (women) 89.5, 87.6; prostate: 94.5, 90.3 and melanoma: 92.9, 91.8.
The Cancer Society said today in these groups alone, 2382 New Zealand cancer patients would have survived if New Zealand had Australia's cancer survival rates. Overall, if other cancers were added the list, the society said 2500 New Zealanders would have survived during this period had they lived in Australia.
Its medical director, Chris Jackson, said while New Zealand has some of the better survival rates for cancer compared to developing nations, this country is still significantly behind Australia and Canada.
He said that shows there is room for improvement. "Progress against cancer has stalled and we're calling for a reboot to the cancer programme."
New Zealand outstripped Australia on five-year survival in lymphoma in children and acute lymphoblastic leukaemias in children, but fell behind in brain cancer for children.
Read the full study here.
"We have centralised cancer care for chid cancers in New Zealand, in Christchurch and [at] Starship (Auckland) and this shows in the data as we are doing better than Australia for our children. But in almost all adult cancers we have fallen behind," Dr Jackson said.
He said it would not be a simple fix but the society wanted key changes:
- A 10-year cancer control strategy.
- Greater planning and co-ordination within the health system, which occurred in Australia and Canada.
- "Fixing and rolling out" the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
- Improved Pharmac processes.
- "Getting back on track" with Smokefree 2025; and
- Reducing obesity.
Dr Jackson added: "Although we are doing well compared to a number of other countries, it's clear we're not doing as well as our neighbours, Australia, and as our other major comparators like Canada, and there's more that we could do if only we would learn the same lessons as we've learnt in childhood cancer for adult cancer."
He said the Concord study is the gold standard of many studies comparing cancer outcomes between the two countries.
"Where previous studies have just looked at a select number of cancers, Concord's looking at 18 different cancer types, and it standardises and controls for all known variables in the [cancer] registries that is possible."
Tauranga-based Leisa Renwick almost died from melanoma in 2015. She counts her and her partner's decision to dig deep and fund two drugs - firstly Dabrafenib and then Keytruda - for the fact she's still alive. She's now receiving publicly funded Keytruda since the decision to fund it in mid 2016. Dabrafenib still isn't funded.
Ms Renwick said she was fortunate that she was financially able to access both the drugs and the information she needed. "And that I was married to someone who could push back against the authority figures who kept telling us there were no options. But those barriers are massive to someone in a different circumstance than myself, and those barriers don't exist in Australia."