Researcher says cancer inequalities in Māori must be addressed

Dr Lis Ellison-Loschmann, from Massey University's Centre for Public Health Research says underlying factors that drive cancer inequalities in Māori, such as poverty, must be addressed immediately. 

An international study highlights the gap in cancer incidence between Māori and other New Zealanders is a lot higher than for other indigenous populations.

The study looks into the scale and nature of cancer among people in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Ellison-Loschmann is the only New Zealand author who has taken part in the study. Her research shows the high rates of a number of cancers in Māori from data taken between 2002 and 2006. She says those rates are even higher now.

“The disparity is particularly serious for Māori women, where breast, lung and colorectal cancer rates continue to rise. We need to learn from what has and hasn’t worked in terms of cancer prevention and screening for Māori, particularly as we look to the possible introduction of a bowel screening programme.

“Overall cervical screening and tobacco control strategies have been less successful for Māori than non- Māori. However breast screening targets are now beginning to be met for Māori which shows that achieving equity in the prevention stage is absolutely possible.”

She also adds “A strategic focus on Māori cancer priorities is needed immediately, including addressing underlying factors that drive cancer inequalities, such as poverty. Higher risks of chronic infections from household crowding in childhood largely increase the risk of development of stomach and liver cancers in adulthood.”

Key findings from the study:

- Lung cancer rates were four times higher among Māori woman and 2.5 times higher among Māori men

- Stomach and liver cancer rates were more than double among Māori

- Smoking was the biggest determinant of lung cancer

- Smoking rates among Māori women were the highest in the study

- Overall Māori die eight years earlier than non- Māori

- Childhood poverty increased the likelihood of cancer in adult Māori