An international study says patients' access to new and better cancer drugs in New Zealand is on a par with Poland, Czech Republic, and South Africa.
The Swedish study, published today in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology, said uptake of new cancer drugs was "low and slow" in New Zealand.
The report said patients around the world faced "stark inequalities" in access to cancer treatment.
The report's Swedish authors, Dr Nils Wilking, of the Karolinska Institute, and Dr Bengt Jonsson, of the Stockholm School of Economics, covered 25 countries.
They included New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Africa and the US, as well as 19 European countries, with a total population of 984 million, and the report canvassed access to 67 innovative cancer drugs.
The report said that Austria, France, Switzerland and the US were the leaders in the use of new cancer drugs, with France replacing Spain among the top four since a previous report was published in 2005.
Uptake of new cancer drugs was "low and slow" in New Zealand, Poland, Czech Republic, South Africa and Britain, and Dr Jonsson said the greatest differences in uptake were noted for new colorectal and lung cancer drugs.
New Zealand was mentioned particularly for having a low level of uptake of the drug pemetrexed, which was registered for use in New Zealand three years ago to treat a rising incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer found in asbestosis victims.
A single course costs more than $4000 and some patients can require up to nine treatments.
The authors said their findings were independent, although the report was funded by a "no-strings" grant from a big pharmaceutical company, La-Roche Ltd.
La-Roche manufactures the expensive breast cancer treatment Herceptin, which has attracted controversy in NZ because the Government's drug funding body Pharmac chose this month to fund nine-week courses of the medication, rather than a preferred 52-week option.
The drug for early HER2-positive breast cancer will cost district health boards $6 million a year instead of the $30 million estimated if one-year treatments had been subsidised.
Dr Wilking said: "In many countries new drugs are not reaching patients quickly enough and that this is having an adverse impact on patient survival."
"Where you live can determine whether you receive the best available treatment or not. To some extent this is determined by economic factors, but much of the variation between countries remains unexplained."
The authors recommended reducing the review time for the marketing authorisation of new cancer drugs and ensuring that any economic evaluation or health technology assessment was done quickly to aid patient access.
Appropriate and adequate funding for new, innovative cancer drugs should also be made available in the healthcare system by planning ahead.
Dr Jonsson said the inequalities between countries should not continue. "Cancer patients will not accept that a standard of care available in one country is not available in other countries."
Countries with the slowest uptake of new drugs:
* New Zealand
* Czech Republic
* South Africa
Source: Cancer journal Annals of Oncology