Cancer sufferers more likely to survive in Australia than NZ - study

New Zealand is lagging behind in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer compared to Australia and internationally, a study shows.

Five-year cancer survival from the time of diagnosis was found to be lower in New Zealand than Australia, the University of Auckland study found.

Published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the research shows the survival of cancer patients diagnosed between 2006 and 2010 was 4.2% lower for women in New Zealand and 3.8% lower for men.

Led by Professor Mark Elwood, the study investigated 18 cancers and found 14 showed lower survival in New Zealand, the exceptions being melanoma, myeloma, mesothelioma and cervical cancer.

"For most cancers, the differences in survival were greatest at one year after diagnosis, becoming smaller later on," says Professor Elwood. "Only for breast cancer, did the survival difference increase with time after diagnosis."

He says the lower survival, and higher mortality rates shown in research published earlier this year, suggest that further improvements in recognition, diagnosis, issues of early management in primary care and time intervals to diagnosis and treatment may be particularly important.

In New Zealand, the difference for all cancer combined equates with about 341 deaths each year for men and 364 deaths each year for women.

"These estimates are approximate and may be conservative," says Professor Elwood.

"In the international comparisons, Australia shows very good overall cancer survival outcomes similar to those from Canada and Sweden, and better than those in the United Kingdom and Denmark."

The study did find that "cancer survival has improved substantially in both Australia and New Zealand over recent years".

The lower survival in New Zealand than in Australia is seen for most cancers, including for the leading causes of cancer death - lung and colorectal cancers and Mr Elwood says this suggests a health system issue rather than a biological or treatment issue specific to certain types of cancer.

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