We need to make our cancer services work better for Pacific Peoples
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
The most frequently diagnosed cancers among Pacific peoples in New Zealand have been revealed in new research looking at cancer diagnosis, mortality and survival rates for Pasifika.
The most common cancers among Pacific Island communities in New Zealand are breast, prostate, lung and uterine cancers.
The purpose of the study - published in the NZ Medical Journal - is to provide up-to-date information on cancer incidence, mortality and survival rates among Pacific peoples in Aotearoa.
Dr Ineke Meredith, one of the authors, said Pacific peoples have a high burden of disease related to obesity; as well as a high burden of disease related to infection.
Pasifika also had a higher incidence of lung and uterine cancers than the European population of New Zealand and their survival rates were shorter.
The well-respected breast surgeon was born here to parents of mixed Samoan heritage. She spent part of her childhood in Samoa and moved back after winning a scholarship to study medicine.
She works as a general surgeon in New Zealand and Paris; specialising in breast cancer and reconstruction.
“Things like hepatits B, liver cancer...and stomach cancer are all preventable causes - and thus preventable cancers.
“And we know that it is very much related to low socio-demographics, deprivation, housing and employment.
“All of these other things compound with poor access to good food and barriers to accessing things like screening and early detection of cancer or standard treatment.”
They are all reasons why Pacific people have a higher incidence of many cancers than non-Pacific, non-Maori people, Meredith said.
The study took incident cases of cancer diagnosed over 12 years between 2007 and 2019 from the NZ Cancer Registry and linked them to the national mortality collection to determine people who died of cancer over that period.
Nationwide strategy needed to improve access to healthy food and smoking reduction
Pasifika communities make up of over 16 culturally diverse ethnic groups who face a disproportionate burden of preventable cancers caused by infectious diseases and obesity.
According to the results of the study, social determinants of health, particularly tobacco use, infectious diseases and obesity - as well as unequal access to healthcare at all stages of screening, detection and treatment - are largely to blame for the disparities.
“It emphasises the importance of tobacco control and smoking. The recent [smoking] repeal...but also things like breast cancer for women and uterus cancer for women.
“And we know that for Pacific women - who have the highest rate of uterine cancer in New Zealand - they have a huge burden of disease that is preventable; because a lot of the disease is related to diabetes, obesity and lack of physical activity.
“So Pacific people have a high burden of disease related to smoking.”
The study looked across all cancers and identified the most commonly diagnosed cancers and the most common causes of cancer death, among Pasifika.
It also looked at survival rates after a diagnosis of cancer and compared this survival rate with European Kiwis.
“We found that Pacific Peoples are much more likely to be diagnosed with - and die from - certain cancers, but not others compared to Europeans and have poorer survival for most cancers.
“Our findings are most likely to be caused by a failure in our system to provide equal access to the drivers of good health.”
Meredith said there needs to be system-level actions to help prevent cancers related to infectious disease, smoking and obesity - as well as actions to make cancer services work better for Pasifika communities.
“I want to emphasise the importance of broad, nationwide implementation of a strategy to improve access to healthy food, screening and smoking reduction, smoking and smoking legislation.”
Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai is one of 12 cadets in the Te Rito journalism programme, which has a focus on training more culturally diverse reporters to ensure newsrooms reflect Aotearoa’s multicultural society. Grace has a keen interest in telling Pasifika stories, South Auckland and sports.
Hero image: Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Photo / Getty images