'Declare lung cancer national priority' - Lung Foundation NZ

By Tema Hemi

The latest call for better cancer treatment funding has come from Lung Foundation New Zealand which has launched a petition calling on the government to declare lung cancer a national health priority and to approve additional budget for Pharmac to fund lung cancer medications. 

Lung Foundation NZ says lung cancer is the country's biggest cancer killer, with 5 people dying of the disease every day. So, it wants the government to give heightened priority to the fight against the disease.  

Its petition asks for lung cancer medications, including Keytruda, Alectinib, Osimertinib and Crizotinib, to be funded and made available to all Kiwi's with advanced lung cancer. 

Chief Executive Philip Hope says, "We have a terrible inequity in New Zealand, where our most vulnerable patients just don’t have access to treatments that keep them well. And this is the purpose of the petition. 

"There could be more work in prevention, in early detection, in screening, certainly improving in health literacy," he says. "But also we know the most effective way right now to reduce inequity in lung cancer is to fund treatments that work."

The organisation says 80% of lung cancer patients do not have an effective first-line treatment in NZ, while it points out that lung cancer accounts for nearly 20% of all cancer deaths - ahead of bowel/colorectal cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Jason Guttenbeil was a loving husband and father who advocated for hundreds of stage four lung cancer patients. Brother of former Kiwi rugby league player Awen, Guttenbeil died of lung cancer last year. On Tuesday, his family had his one-year memorial.

His wife Patricia Guttenbeil says, "It was heartbreaking to see him going through that. It was really one of the toughest things seeing him you know, I hate to say it, but dying in front of us. It was really difficult for me and the children to watch that happen."

The Foundation says the country has performed poorly in treating lung cancer and has not kept pace with international best practice.  

"2019 is the 50th consecutive year lung cancer has been the biggest killer," says Hope. "New Zealand has not embraced precision led health care for lung cancer, in fact for many cancers what we're seeing is that lung cancer is being the poor cousin.

"The treatment we have in New Zealand is Third World," he says.