4 Feb 2022

Breast cancer outcomes worse for Māori, Pacific women, new study finds

5:34 am on 4 February 2022

The chances of women dying from breast cancer have halved since 2003, but Māori and Pacific women still face higher risk, particularly within 10 years of getting the disease.

Cancer Treatment generic concept.

The report found 60 percent of women did not get their first surgery within 31 days of diagnosis. Photo: 123RF

A report released today covers 30,000 patients between 2003 and 2019 using data from Te Rēhita Mate Ūtaetae - the Breast Cancer Foundation National Register.

Wāhine Māori were 33 percent more likely to die of breast cancer within 10 years than Pākehā and more likely to have higher-risk HER2+ breast cancer;

Fifty-two percent of Pacific women are more likely to die within 10 years than Pākehā.

Women under 45 had a lower survival rate than those over that age, 82 percent compared to 89 percent.

The report also found 60 percent of women did not get their first surgery within 31 days of diagnosis, and a third had a mastectomy they probably did not need.

The report's findings have prompted the foundation to call for more prioritisation of at-risk groups by the health system, a switch in focus to a 10-year outlook in order to close the survival gap, hospitals to set surgical targets, and investment from government to tackle surgery delays.

The chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, Ah-Leen Rayner, said improvements in survival are a tribute to cancer specialists and the BreastScreen Aotearoa screening programme.

'' But we need to stop talking about five-year survival. That's no longer an acceptable measure of success.

"We're still losing more than 650 women to breast cancer every year, and our comprehensive review of the register data shows our Māori, Pasifika and younger women, and those with larger or more aggressive cancers, are being left behind.

"On top of this, Covid-19's devastating impact on breast screening is putting even more women at risk. We can't allow the pandemic to keep pushing other health issues to the sidelines, as our most vulnerable women will be the ones to suffer."

Of all breast cancers diagnosed in 2020, 7 percent fewer were found by mammogram than in 2019, which the foundation said is likely as a result of paused and reduced screening during the Covid-19 lockdown, meaning they were diagnosed later than they should have been.

The report has been released to coincide with World Cancer Day.

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