16 Sep 2018

Australasia suffers the highest cancer rate in the world

7:25 pm on 16 September 2018

Men are most at risk of the 35,897 new cases of cancer expected in New Zealand in 2018, says the World Health Organisation.

Male suffering from stomachache pain.

About 46 percent of New Zealand men and a third of women are likely to develop cancer, the World Health Organisation report says. Photo: 123RF

Close to half the men in New Zealand and Australia are at risk of getting cancer, giving Australasia the highest regional rate in the world, latest estimates from The World Health Organisation (WHO) show.

WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates the risk of New Zealand men developing cancer before the age of 75 years is 46.27 percent. The agency estimates the risk for women in New Zealand at a third.

"The increasing cancer burden is due to several factors including population growth and ageing, as well as the changing prevalence of certain causes of cancer linked to social and economic development," the agency's report said.

"This is particularly true in rapidly growing economies, where a shift is observed from cancers related to poverty and infections to cancers associated with lifestyles more typical of industrialised countries."

Cancer Society of New Zealand chief executive Mike Kernaghan said an ageing population and lifestyle factors including diet and exercise were contributing to the rising risk of getting the disease.

"All of those factors contribute, as we get older, to an increased risk of cancer and the concern is that we don't appear to be paying enough attention here in New Zealand to those issues," Mr Kernaghan said.

He said cancer caused 30 percent of deaths in New Zealand with lung cancer and prostate cancer the most prevalent.

"Survival rates are… improving because of new treatments that are available and the care available.

"Having said that… we've still got a long way to go in terms of improving our performance here in New Zealand."

Mr Kernaghan said access to new and proven medicines in New Zealand lagged behind other countries around the world, particularly Australia.

The IARC report also highlighted a worrying rise in lung cancer in women, with highest incidence rates in Hungary, North America, China, Australia and New Zealand.