The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) is calling for urgent action following three recent studies which highlight inequalities in access to screening and treatment for Māori women with breast cancer.

The three studies, all published this year, show that Māori women have higher rates of advanced cancer; experience longer delays in getting surgical treatment; and have lower rates of breast cancer screening.

BCAC chairperson, Libby Burgess, says the findings are a wake-up call for more to be done for Māori women with breast cancer.

“The fact that Māori women are 60 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than European New Zealanders is completely unacceptable.  We cannot stand by and watch our Māori sisters die unnecessarily.  We need to do more,” she says.

A study, published in Plos One in April, used data from the Waikato Breast Cancer Register between 1999 and 2012 to examine differences in breast cancer characteristics between Māori and European women. This research found that Māori women had significantly higher rates of advanced cancer and higher-grade cancers.

The authors concluded that: “Strategies aimed at reducing breast cancer mortality in Māori should focus on earlier diagnosis through increasing screening coverage and other methods, which will likely have a greater impact on minimising the breast cancer mortality inequity between Māori and NZ European women.”

However, access and engagement in screening remains an issue for Māori women.  

Another study, published in BMC Public Health in January this year, found that Māori women had a lower rate of screen-detected breast cancer and that this was a contributing factor in their higher rate of advanced cancer and lower survival rate.

This research examined data on all primary breast cancers diagnosed in screening age women in the Waikato area between 1999 and 2012.

It found that around 62 per cent of breast cancers in Europeans aged between 45 and 69 were screen-detected, while only 49 per cent of breast cancers in Māori women were screen-detected.

The authors say, “Māori women were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer compared with European women and approximately half of this difference was explained by lower rates of screen-detected cancer for Māori women.”

Finally, a study published in Ethnicity and Health, which drew on Waikato Breast Cancer Registry data, found that Māori women wait longer for breast cancer surgery than NZ European women.

The authors discovered that Māori women were 37 per cent more likely to wait longer than 31 days for surgery and 74 per cent more likely to have a delay of more than three months.

They concluded that longer delays for treatment are thought to be a significant contributing factor in the lower survival rates for Māori women compared with non-Māori in New Zealand.

Libby says more effort needs to go into encouraging Māori women to take up breast screening and DHBs need to ensure that Māori women get timely surgery.

She says BCAC will appeal to BreastScreen Aotearoa and the Minister of Health to achieve real and significant improvements in the speed of detection and treatment for Māori women with breast cancer.

30 November 2015

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