8 Feb 2024

Removing barriers to prostate cancer scans a 'key priority' for Te Whatu Ora

3:17 pm on 8 February 2024
A doctor gives a male patient an update on his case (file photo)

Photo: 123RF

The end to a postcode lottery on prostate cancer scans has been a long time coming, a patient advocacy group says.

Te Whatu Ora is poised next month to introduce the first national criteria for advanced PET-CT scans for prostate cancer, called PSMA PET (prostate-specific membrane antigen positron emission tomography) scans.

It told RNZ there had been "increased discrepancies" in recent years in what PET-CT scans were funded, and where.

"This is particularly the case with PET-CT scans for prostate cancer, which are funded in some parts of the country but not in others," interim chief clinical officer Dr Richard Sullivan said in a statement.

"Removing these discrepancies and ensuring everyone has the same access to funded PET-CT scans, regardless of where they live, has been a key priority for Te Whatu Ora."

The split essentially meant Auckland men had much more access to prostate scans than other men.

"You appear to be more likely to be able to get a PSMA PET scan if you are in the north of the country, rather than in the south," said Peter Dickens of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

The scans were much more accurate than regular scans at determining a cancer's spread, and hugely useful for helping men avoid invasive treatment, he said.

"It's really good that they are sitting down and examining this, but it's really important that they get it right, in terms of the criteria and also the funding of the scans."

If the agency got it right, more fathers and grandfathers would get to see out their lives with their whānau, Dickens said.

In Australia, anyone diagnosed with prostate cancer got two funded PSMA PET scans, while the existing access criteria here was "prohibitive" in many areas, he said.

"We're lagging behind ... this is a situation that's been ongoing for some time."

An Otago man told RNZ he had to pay $3555 for a PET scan when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year.

He called it scandalous and wrote to Health Minister Shane Reti, saying: "Whilst going through this process I discovered that the scan is free to North Islanders.

"Shane, I would hope that you would look further into this as there obviously needs to be a 'level playing field'."

The foundation had lobbied for years, however, it had not been consulted by Te Whatu Ora and knew as much about the incoming criteria to get a scan as anybody else.

"We've not been in the room about these guidelines, no," Dickens said.

Sullivan said the new national criteria had been developed in conjunction with the cancer control agency Te Aho o Te Kahu, a "multi-specialty" project group and the National Radiology Advisory Group.

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