A Waikato study has found that Māori women wait longer for breast cancer surgery than New Zealand European women.

The 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.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) chairperson, Libby Burgess, says more needs to be done to ensure Māori women are getting the same access to treatment as their European sisters.

“It’s a sad indictment that Māori women are waiting longer for treatment and we’re very disappointed to see these figures.  BCAC has long been committed to seeing improvements in care for Māori and Pasifika women and this study highlights the extent of work still to be done,” Libby says.

The study, published in the journal Ethnicity and Health, drew on data for cancers diagnosed between 2005 and 2010 and recorded in the Waikato Breast Cancer Register.

A threshold of 31 days was set as the longest acceptable delay for access to surgical treatment. This is in line with the Ministry of Health’s Faster Cancer Treatment targets.

Overall, the study found that nearly 60 per cent of women had surgery within 31 days of diagnosis, with 98 per cent being operated on within 90 days.

However, 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.

The study also found the longest treatment delays were for women under 50-years-old and over 70-years-old.

The study authors believe the main driver for delayed surgical treatment for Māori women is that more non-Māori women use the private system. Women who get breast cancer treatment earlier have a greater chance of survival and the authors believe this contributes to worse outcomes for Māori women.

The study hopes to highlight the need to improve services in the public sector in order to reduce ethnic inequities, limit overall delays, and improve breast cancer outcomes.  

Libby says BCAC will use the study to highlight the issue of Maori disadvantage in breast cancer treatment when it next meets with the Minister of Health.

23 Oct 2015

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