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Breast cancer sufferers dying twice as fast in NZ

Newshub logoNewshub 8/09/2018

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Kiwi women with advanced breast cancer are dying twice as fast as women in comparable countries like Australia.

New research from the Breast Cancer Foundation has found women whose cancer has spread beyond the breast are incurable and they have a median survival of 16 months.

Just 5 percent of Māori are likely to survive five years, compared with 15 percent for non-Māori

It found once a Kiwi woman is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer she will get less treatment than in comparable counties and up to a quarter won't get any treatment at all.

Anna Southern was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer five years ago.

"Even though I've beat the odds so far, you never know, I never know. I don't plan for a future. I never look beyond this year."

She's seen a marked change from when she was first diagnosed.

"I was in the hospital within days and each of the surgery I had I was in there really quickly."

Now that her cancer has spread beyond her breasts and lymph nodes it is considered incurable and she's waiting longer for treatment. She's trying to get into the Pain Clinic as a result of her surgeries.

"I was referred two or three months ago. I'm still waiting just to get an appointment and I don't know how long I'll be waiting."

The Breast Cancer Foundation wants ABC patients to be treated with the same immediacy as those diagnosed with early-detection breast cancer. That means putting patients into the system fast and not putting them to the back of the queue for treatments.

Its researchers asked doctors, nurses, and patients about their experiences, and they were shocked with the results.

Research manager Adele Gautier says New Zealanders live on average 16 months after diagnosed with advanced disease.

"That's way behind the rest of the world where the standard is about two to three years."

But the reasons aren't straightforward.

"It seems there are fair portion that are getting no treatment at all, and quite a few who are only getting one or two lines of treatment, "says Ms Gautier.

She also says a lack of funding for drugs has contributed.

"We are running behind other countries and we think New Zealanders are worth the same as Canadian, Australian, French and German women."

More than 600 Kiwis die from the disease each year.

Ms Southern is hopeful the research will prompt some action.

"The irony is you don't actual die of breast cancer; you die of ABC, so you start finding some cures for those with ABC and you're actually finding cures for those with breast cancer as well."

Health Minister David Clark says it adds to the evidence we need to improve our services and the ministry is working closely with DHB cancer specialists to do that.

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