Simon Sutcliffe: Resources must be focused on cancer control

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Cancer was the leading cause of death in New Zealand in 2010, accounting for nearly a third of all deaths.

That's an increase of nearly 13 per cent between 2000 and 2010.

This is partly due to population ageing, but also to the success of targeting communicable diseases as causes of premature death.

Developing countries know their resources are limited. They have no choice but to adopt new approaches to cancer control. They have to target their resources where they'll get the "best buys"; that is, the greatest gains for the greatest number with affordable investments.

That is the challenge for New Zealand today - to do more with the same proportional resources.

There is a way to reduce death rates from cancer that doesn't necessarily require more money. It may require a different allocation, and it could be put in place almost straight away.

The answer is a sharper focus on your resource use around cancer control.

Monitoring and measuring results must be a priority.

No one can know the highest priority area for resources without monitoring different types of delay in cancer treatment, or the impact of prevention, risk factor exposure and screening programmes.

You need to know nationally how long cancer patients have to wait between symptoms and treatment and whether effective palliative and end-of-life care programmes are in place.

You need good quality data, definitions and analyses that are consistent between regions. You need annual reports on performance indicators that span programmes for prevention, screening, supportive care and research, as well as diagnosis and treatment.

Unless you are measuring your work, you cannot know if you are succeeding.

I know that in the late 90s, a group of people here who work with cancer were so concerned about New Zealand's performance compared to similar countries that they got together and came up with a Cancer Control Strategy and action plan. That was a success. For example, an explicit target was set for quitting smoking among smokers admitted to hospital and people who visit GPs. A nationwide focus went on two of the most common killers - lung and bowel cancers.

National standards now exist for some of your most serious cancers to describe the level of service that patients should have access to. None of this would have happened without a strategy. An updated cancer control strategy should be your number one priority.

Dr Simon Sutcliffe is a Canadian clinician and scientist and president of the International Cancer Control Congress Association. He is the featured speaker at the Cancer Control Symposium and MPs' panel in Wellington today.

- NZ Herald

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