New Zealand’s cancer control progress has stalled - a well-funded cancer plan needed


New research out today in the Lancet Oncology Journal shows that New Zealand is near the bottom for cancer survival compared to other countries with similar health care systems.

Other countries have caught up and are overtaking us and New Zealand is now lagging behind Australia despite having similar survival rates 20 years ago.

“This new study shows that not only are we behind our comparator countries, progress has stalled, and similar countries are accelerating ahead of us” says Dr Chris Jackson, Cancer Society Medical Director and an author of the research.

This follows a 2018 study that showed while New Zealand performed well compared to low and middle income countries, we were behind countries more similar to ours, such as Canada and Australia.

“These results indicate how poorly we’ve performed in cancer control over the last 20 years and we need a well-funded cancer plan to change this,” says Dr Chris Jackson, Cancer Society Medical Director and an author of the research.

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New Zealand’s rate of improvement is the worst for almost every cancer type studied and we are in the bottom two for pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancer survival rates. Only oesophageal cancer is above average.

“You can see this disparity most noticeably in the survival rate jump from the 1995-1999 figures in lung and colon cancer, compared to the survival rate in 2010-2014. New Zealand has gone from having one of the top three rates, alongside Australia and Canada, to the bottom of the group 20 years later.

“This research shows us that early detection (such as earlier bowel screening), early access to diagnostic tests and timely access to effective treatment like PET scanning, have made a big difference for patient outcomes overseas.

“Specialist cancer centres for highly complex cancer surgery (such as lung, pancreas and oesophageal) and better access to clinical trials have also helped these other countries accelerate past us in cancer survival rates.

“The New Zealand Government’s recent announcement of a national cancer plan comes not a moment too soon.

“Our cancer programme needs a redesign and funding to achieve this,” says Dr Jackson.

“We perform at world-leading rates for child cancer because we have specialist centres, access to the drugs needed, clear standards of care, high engagement in clinical trials and strong leadership.”

The research is part of the second phase of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), the Cancer Survival in High-Income Countries (SURVMARK-2) project. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview of cancer survival across seven countries with similar health systems and a comparative assessment of corresponding incidence and mortality trends.

The report shows that cancer survival continues to increase across these countries. However, the study shows international disparities persist.

“Australia is delivering world-class cancer outcomes that New Zealand should also be able to provide.

“They have a focus on allowing primary carers access to diagnostics, and have invested in comprehensive state-wide cancer plans. This type of system change clearly leads to good outcomes for people with a cancer diagnosis.”

  • The countries included in the study: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK.
  • Population-based cancer survival estimates provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of cancer services and can reflect the prospects of cure.
  • The study found that between 1995–2014 1-year and 5-year net cancer survival rate increased in each of the seven countries (19 eligible jurisdictions) across almost all cancer types.
  • Larger survival improvements were observed for patients younger than 75 years at diagnosis than those aged 75 years and older, and notably for cancers with a worse prognosis (oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, and lung).

Graphs can be found here: