New study shows breast cancer inequities among Māori

By Jessica Tyson

Māori women diagnosed with breast cancer are 1.76 times more likely to die after five years than Pākehā women - that's according to an extensive three-year study by researchers at the University of Waikato and the Waikato District Health Board.

The study also found Māori women are less likely to be diagnosed through mammographic screening or receive chemotherapy, herceptin or surgery. 

Meanwhile, Pacific women diagnosed are twice more likely to die from the disease after five years than New Zealand Pākehā women.  Pacific women are diagnosed with breast cancer younger than other groups and the cancer is almost twice as likely to be an aggressive form.

Professor Lawrenson says the most important work to be done is in improving the outcomes for Māori and Pacific women, where the biggest gains can be made through earlier diagnosis.

"Firstly, improving access to primary care, and making it easier and cheaper for them to see a GP and get a diagnosis.  Secondly, improving access to breast screening.  There is a lot of good work being done, and it needs to continue,” he says.

Each year, more than 3,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with breast cancer.  It is New Zealand's third most common cancer and accounts for 600 deaths every year. 

“Focusing on reducing the inequities, rather than only on new drugs and treatments, has the potential to significantly improve the situation for the women most at risk- and all women."

The study used data from over 12,000 women from Auckland and Waikato, reflecting the wider New Zealand population.