10 May 2021

Cancer screening programmes should be managed by Māori to reach Māori - Health leader

7:13 am on 10 May 2021

Long-awaited funding for cervical screening tests is a fantastic start - but more is needed to improve early detection of the disease among Māori, a health leader says.

Holding vaginal smear test.

Photo: 123RF

The government announced on Sunday that it will commit $53 million towards making at-home HPV virus tests available in two years' time.

A new breast cancer screening system would also be introduced to "proactively identify and enrol eligible women", with plans to reach 271,000 more people.

Ministry of Health figures show wāhine Māori are falling behind non-Māori, with an average of just 62 percent being screened.

National Māori Cancer Leadership Group chairperson doctor Nina Scott said for rates to improve Māori needed to take the lead.

"Māori governance over the cancer screening programmes would ensure that the programmes were designed and delivered in a way which would meet Māori needs and it's very clear from the screening rates that they are not doing that.

"So we do need to let Māori lead in this space because we actually know how to make it work," she said.

More needed to be invested in preventative care such as cancer screening because it was cost effective and saved lives, Scott added.

"We can't have mediocre screening programmes, we've got to continuously improve our screening programmes because if they are not high quality there is no point doing them."

Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood agreed, saying while the cervical screening test funding was extremely important, services for lung, bowel and other cancers were in dire need of more resources.

"We need more funding in both the work force and implementation because with most of the cancers we are talking about here early detection is so key to good outcomes. So if you catch these things early, before they reach an advanced stage, you might only need a small amount of surgery," Elwood said.

She added that it was important for the age of eligibility to access many cancer screening services needed to be expanded.

"In terms of breast cancer, our current scheme only covers women aged 45 to 69, but we would love to see that expanded to women in their 70s because they still have lots of good years ahead of them if their cancers are caught early."

"Similarly, the Cancer Society supports the age limit for bowel cancer screening to be dropped from aged 50 and we would love to see a lung screening programme set up," she said.

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