Mind the Gap: Tasman divide remains in cancer survival

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Australia and New Zealand_oncology news australiaThe latest systematic comparison of cancer survival between Australia and New Zealand shows more than 750 New Zealanders who die of cancer each year would survive if they lived on the other side of “the ditch”.

Research from Auckland University presented at the World Cancer Congress revealed the gap of about 10 per cent, or 765 deaths per year, between the nations has not improved since an initial study was done by Otago University 12 years ago which first identified a gulf in mortality rates.

Auckland University Professor Mark Elwood said over time mortality rates had dropped significantly in both countries and survival rates had increased – yet this gap in outcomes for New Zealand cancer patients compared to those in Australia had not budged.

“We found that cancer survival was significantly higher in Australia than in New Zealand for all cancers combined in both men and women, as well as for people with bowel or lung cancer, and women with breast or ovarian cancer,” Professor Elwood said.

A key finding was that this gap between the two countries – which share similar rates of new cases as well as health care systems – is most pronounced in the first year after diagnosis.

Professor Elwood said this pointed to specific issues in primary care.

“It’s a significant gap that could be attributed to a range of factors, but the biggest difference recorded in that first year would indicate there are issues related to the speed of diagnosis for New Zealanders and the management of the disease within primary care rather than any difference in treatment standards.

“In the past few years we have seen changes in the health system to close the gap, and we would hope to see that reflected in future studies.”

The study compared cancer survival for Australian patients diagnosed in 2006-2010 and 2000-2005 compared to those in New Zealand using data from each country’s national cancer registration and mortality systems. Cancer survival means relative cancer survival and was assessed at one, five and 10 years from diagnosis.

The study authors found cancer survival was significantly higher in Australia than in New Zealand for all cancers combined for both sexes as well as for several major cancer sites including bowel and lung. Cancer survival was also significantly higher for Australian women with breast or ovarian cancer. Other types of cancer showed no difference, including melanoma and laryngeal. These findings were not explained by age differences between the patient populations.

Source: Cancer Council Australia


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