People with advanced breast cancer treated like second-class citizens, breast cancer coalition group says

New Zealand needs to stop treating patients with advanced breast cancer as second-class citizens, an umbrella organisation of more than 30 breast cancer-related groups have said in a statement.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (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".

It comes after a report, released today by the Breast Cancer Foundation of New Zealand, revealed that New Zealand breast cancer sufferers have a "shockingly high" mortality rate.

The report, based on extensive data from breast cancer registers and surveys from patients and doctors, also found that patients with advanced breast cancer, known as metastic breast cancer, survive a median of 16 months compared to two to three years in countries where the investment in treatment and care is significantly higher.

It also found that Māori and Pasifika women have much higher mortality rates.

"We're stunned at the number who don't receive any hormone treatment or chemotherapy, let alone targeted therapy," Ms Burgess said.

"The report says research suggests many patients can benefit from more than three lines of therapy. In New Zealand, only about 15 per cent 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.

However, BCAC welcomed the report's findings, saying 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".

"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."


Cropped image of woman wearing pink ribbon, symbol of breast cancer awareness
File picture. Source: istock.com