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Cancer death rates reducing

2 August 2006

Cancer death rates reducing

Latest New Zealand Health Information Service (NZHIS) official figures confirm overall cancer death rates are declining.

Ministry of Health principal advisor cancer control Dr John Childs says the figures show cancer mortality rates reduced from 125.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 120.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2002.

This is in line with a trend of decreasing cancer death rates which may be partly due to the impact of screening programmes, earlier diagnosis and treatment improvements, Dr Childs says.

Patient survival data, published by NZHIS for the first time, shows that breast, prostate and skin cancer are among those with the highest survival rates over five years, a milestone that in many cases means that the cancer may have been cured.

"Though New Zealand has a higher incidence of cancer than some other countries, our survival rates for some cancers such as cervical, breast and colorectal cancer are on a par with those of the United States or Australia. This report gives us an important baseline allowing us to compare and measure the impact of new treatments and developments in cancer care over time," Dr Childs says.

As expected, pancreatic cancer, throat and lung cancer and liver cancer are among those with the lowest survival rates over five years.

The figures also show that Maori were more likely than non-Maori to die from cancer, often because Maori were more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage when the cancer had spread.

"This tells us that there still needs to be significant effort aimed at reducing the incidence of and improving the treatment of cancer for Maori," Dr Childs says.

Cancer survival rates for Pacific communities have not been calculated in the Cancer Patient Survival Covering the Period from 1994-2003report because of difficulties in gathering accurate statistics.

Though overall cancer death rates are decreasing, the disease remains the leading cause of death in New Zealand, followed by heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Among New Zealanders who died of cancer in 2002, the most common cancers for women were breast cancer, throat and lung cancer, and bowel cancer. In men, the most common cause of death due to cancer was throat and lung cancer, followed by prostate and bowel cancer. These cancers, along with melanoma or skin cancer, were the most commonly diagnosed, according to the Cancer: New Registrations and Deaths 2002report.

The Mortality and Demographic Data 2002 and 2003report shows

Though New Zealand's overall cancer death rate is decreasing over time, the raw number of deaths from cancer increased from 7800 in 2002 to 7932 in 2003.

Deaths from heart disease decreased slightly from 6287 in 2002 to 6196 in 2003, with men accounting for about half of these deaths.

Deaths from stroke also decreased from 2829 in 2002 to 2692 in 2003. About 60 per cent of these deaths were in women.

Diabetes deaths increased from 805 in 2002 to 847 in 2003.

Maori had higher death rates than non-Maori in heart disease, stroke and diabetes deaths.

The reports include the latest official annual statistics. Statistics are published once a cause of death has been recorded for all deaths that year. The process for determining the cause of death can be lengthy. If official statistics were published before a cause of death was established, the figures could give a misleading picture and may need to be corrected.

These reports are available at


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