7 Sep 2019

Cancer among Māori often more lethal - Professor Diana Sarfati

3:03 pm on 7 September 2019

Improving cancer care for Māori is a priority for the new Cancer Control Agency, its interim director says.

A doctor gives a male patient an update on his case (file photo)

Photo: 123RF

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati was appointed to the role after the government established the Cancer Control Agency earlier this week.

Prof Sarfati told Saturday Morning one of her ambitions was to have equitable outcomes for Māori with cancer by 2030.

Māori have a 20 percent overall higher rate of new cancer registrations than non-Māori.

"One of my ambitions for this new structure is to have a really clear partnership model with Māori because Māori are going to be able to identify both what some of the issues are and what the solutions are from a perspective that others can't," Prof Sarfati said.

Discussing high rates of stomach cancer in Māori, she said there were two elements that explained this: A genetic predisposition but, by far the majority of the difference was due to rates of infection related to the common bacterium, H pylori.

H pylori is often contracted during childhood and is common among those living in overcrowded conditions.

It was a cancer of poverty, Dr Sarfati said.

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Professor Diana Sarfati hopes to work in partnership with Māori over cancer care. Photo: Supplied / YouTube

She said new evidence was emerging that screening of vulnerable groups and early treatment with antibiotics could be effective in the prevention of stomach cancer.

"But the cancers where they have much greater incidence tend to be very lethal cancers and also very preventable cancers," Prof Sarfati said.

"So for example, lung cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer. These are all highly preventable cancers."

Meanwhile, earlier this week Hei Āhuru Mōwai - Māori Cancer Leadership Aotearoa chairperson Nina Scott said the government's commitment to working in partnership with Māori was promising.

She said the previous cancer strategy was also good, but ultimately failed because there was no partnership.

Dr Scott declined to elaborate on what partnership should look like in the new agency, saying that she wanted the wider Māori population to decide.

"I think there needs to be a Māori Treaty partner at every level, especially at the higher top levels, obviously, but at the same time we can't just rely on one person, we also need to have that collective input."

She said she would be asking the Ministry of Health for resources to hold wānanga across the country to hear from Māori.

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