Shocking findings reveal NZ lagging behind in advanced breast cancer treatment

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition media release, 7 September 2018

New Zealand needs to stop treating people with advanced breast cancer as second class citizens, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) says.

The coalition of more than 30 breast cancer-related group says a report out today by the Breast Cancer Foundation of New Zealand (BCFNZ) reveals the shockingly high mortality rates for New Zealand women compared to other comparable countries.

The report outlines where the health system is failing New Zealand women with advanced breast cancer, and highlights the urgent need for action, BCAC chairperson Libby Burgess says.  “People with advanced breast cancer are not being given the treatment they deserve and are being treated as second class citizens by the health system.”

The report shows that women in this country with advanced breast cancer (also known as metastatic breast cancer) survive for a median of 16 months compared to two to three years in other countries where the investment in treatment and care is substantially higher. Māori women and Pasifika women have much higher mortality rates, which highlights even more the need for urgent action.

BCAC welcomes the report because it provides a fact based analysis of the current situation and how we can move forward to improve the length and quality of life for women with terminal breast cancer. The report is based on extensive data from breast cancer registers as well as surveys of patients and doctors. It clearly shows that NZ women do not have access to all the medicines that would make a significant difference to their lives and that they have insufficient access to clinical trials, diagnostic imaging and biopsy.

People with advanced breast cancer are often given a lower priority for chemotherapy than early breast cancer patients, despite the fact that, in many cases, advanced breast cancer will progress faster than early disease, the report says.

“We’re stunned at the number who don’t receive any hormone treatment or chemotherapy, let alone targeted therapy,” Libby says. The report says research suggests many patients can benefit from more than three lines of therapy. In New Zealand, only about 15% of patients have more than three systemic treatments. Few patients have metastatic biopsies that could suggest additional treatment options, and too many patients in New Zealand receive no systemic treatments at all.

“This is absolutely not good enough. There needs to be continued treatment as metastatic breast cancer advances, and a toolkit of options for treatment. Healthcare professionals report to us they are frustrated they can’t give their patients the best treatments to keep them thriving,” Libby says.

BCAC agrees with the recommendations in the report. “Clearly New Zealand needs to pick up its game. People with breast cancer deserve access to the medicines that will extend their lives and give them more time with their families, and medicines that will improve their quality of life.

“Key medicines BCAC hopes will be funded as soon as possible include Kadcyla, Ibrance, Faslodex, Abraxane, Afinitor, Kisqali and Halaven. We also believe Perjeta should be funded for all who need it, not just for those who meet the current criteria. These medicines have been shown to give people more quality time with their families and in their communities,” Libby says.

“People with advanced breast cancer deserve equal access to chemotherapy and the opportunity to take part in clinical trials.” New Zealand guidelines for advance breast cancer diagnosis and treatment should be agreed and adopted.

BCAC is an umbrella organisation representing more than 30 breast cancer-related groups in New Zealand. Our goal is to make world class detection, treatment and care accessible to all those affected by breast cancer in New Zealand. BCAC provides direct support and information to those diagnosed with breast cancer and information for decision makers.


To read the BCFNZ report “I’m Still Here”, visit

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Ali Tocker

Communications Advisor

Phone: 027 211 2159


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