Concern at NZ's cancer death toll

By Martin Johnston

Third highest in Asia-Pacific and highest for bowel cancer, OECD report shows.

New Zealanders' life expectancy, at 81, is comparable to the OECD average of 79.8, but greater than Asia's average of 72.2. Photo / APN
New Zealanders' life expectancy, at 81, is comparable to the OECD average of 79.8, but greater than Asia's average of 72.2. Photo / APN

New Zealand has one of the highest death rates from cancer in the Asia-Pacific region, a report shows.

Of the 25 countries in the health comparisons report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, only China and Mongolia had higher estimates.

At 132 cancer deaths per 100,000 population in 2008, New Zealand was slightly higher than the rate for the OECD club of wealthier countries, but much higher than Australia (119) and the Asian countries' average (114).

New Zealanders' life expectancy, at 81, is comparable to the OECD average of 79.8, but greater than Asia's average of 72.2.

The effects of this older age structure on cancer death rates was removed by statistical adjustments to enable better comparisons.

A cancer epidemiologist, Associate Professor Brian Cox, of Otago University, said some of the cancer difference between Asia countries and New Zealand would be related to long-term cigarette smoking and its effect on lung cancer rates.

"However, we do have the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world."

The report shows New Zealand has the highest rates of deaths from bowel cancer and from breast cancer in the Asia-Pacific region. Our bowel cancer death rate is more than 50 per cent greater than Australia's. But New Zealand has the region's second-lowest cervical cancer death rate; only Australia's is lower. Fiji's is nearly 9 times higher than New Zealand's. Several Pacific countries are not included in the report.

Dr Cox said no one knew why New Zealand's cancer death rate was higher than Australia's. "It is unfortunate we haven't been able to control cancer mortality to the same extent that Australia has managed to, which means we have to re-evaluate where we are going again."

New Zealand's death rates from cardiovascular disease and "all-cause mortality" are at the lower end for the Asia-Pacific region. Its diabetes rate is in the mid-to-upper range and its overweight and obesity rate is the highest and just above Australia's.

Health Ministry chief medical officer Don Mackie said New Zealanders had very good health compared with other countries, considering our size and health spending.

"There has been significant improvement in the overall mortality rate - from 1998 to 2008 the rate of death from cancer decreased by 13 per cent," he said.

- NZ Herald

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