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King launches New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy

25 August 2003

King launches New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy

Health Minister Annette King says the New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy, launched today at Parliament, may prove our most effective weapon yet against this country's second leading cause of death.

"About 16,000 people develop cancer annually, it kills about 7,500 people each year and this number is growing. But we know that at least one-third of cancer is preventable, and early detection and effective treatment of another one-third of cancer is also possible."

The strategy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer through planned and coordinated approaches by government and non-government groups. "The WHO says national cancer control strategies are the most effective way to reduce the rate of cancer and improve the quality of life for those with cancer.

"This strategy will guide existing and future actions to control cancer, such as effective diagnosis and treatment, evidence-based best practice, improving service delivery, and reducing the incidence of cancer through primary care.”

Ms King said the strategy encourages government and non-government service providers to work closely together to achieve long-term change.

"The strategy is not a quick-fix for our cancer problems, but it is a launch-pad for action. Cancer is complex, and achieving all that is possible will take time and a sustained effort, but today we have taken a crucial step.

“The next step is to develop an implementation plan that identifies priorities for action and resources. I hope that plan will be finalised by mid 2004, and I will be announcing the members of the implementation taskforce shortly," says Ms King.

The strategy is based on public feedback from a discussion document released last year. The Ministry and New Zealand Cancer Control Trust have developed the strategy, which also builds on advice and work already done by the New Zealand Palliative Care Strategy, the New Zealand Cancer Treatment Working Party and the Paediatric Oncology Steering Group.


Questions and Answers

What is cancer?

"Cancer" is a generic term used to describe a group of over a hundred diseases that occur when malignant forms of abnormal cell growth develop in one or more body organs. These cancer cells continue to divide and grow to produce tumours. Cancer differs from most other diseases in that it can develop at any stage in life and in any body organ. No two cancers behave exactly alike. Some may follow an aggressive course, with the cancer growing rapidly. Other types grow slowly or may remain dormant for years. Very high cure rates can be achieved for some types of cancers, but for others the cure rates are disappointingly low and await improved methods of detection and treatment. The wide range of cancer treatment and associated services reflects the biological diversity of cancer.

What is cancer control?

Cancer control is an organised approach to reducing the burden of cancer in our community. It recognises the disease cannot be completely eradicated in the foreseeable future, but that its effects can be reduced. The aims of cancer control are to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and the number who die from cancer, and to ensure a better quality of life for those who do develop the disease. The areas to be covered by a cancer control strategy encompass all aspects of cancer: prevention; screening (where appropriate); early detection; diagnosis; treatment; rehabilitation and support; and palliative care. The strategy also means addressing problems, such as equity of access, workforce development, and research.

Why do we need a cancer control strategy?

Although the standard of cancer services in New Zealand is high by international standards, the largely piecemeal way they have developed has led to gaps in and fragmentation of service provision and delivery. Limited specialist training in some areas, lack of foresight in coordinated workforce development, and limited resources has resulted in unacceptable waiting times for some people's
treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the development and implementation of a national cancer control strategy is the most effective way of reducing the incidence and impact of cancer.

Reasons why New Zealand needs a cancer control strategy, include:

- increasing numbers of New Zealanders are developing and dying from cancer
- our cancer death rate has increased at a faster rate, and is now higher than that of comparable countries
- cancer control is unique in its complexity, involving a range of diseases and a diversity of service providers - it cannot be achieved by any single organisation or by government alone
- establishing an alliance of organisations and health professionals, both government and non-government, is critical if action is to be cost-effective.

Who developed the strategy?

The NZ Cancer Control Trust was established in February 2001, with funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the Child Cancer Foundation, to help the NGO sector facilitate the development of a cancer control strategy.

The Trust subsequently prepared two background reports for the Ministry of Health to inform the development of the strategy. Following a commitment
from the Minister of Health, the Cancer Control Steering Group, with expertise in the various aspects of cancer control, was formed in October 2001 to oversee development of the strategy. The Ministry and the Trust have funded the development of the strategy. Five expert working groups were established to advise the Steering Group and to recommend priorities for the strategy. Their reports are available on the Ministry website: and the Trust website:

Consultation on the discussion document, Towards a Cancer Control Strategy for New Zealand, took place between December 2002 and March 2003. It involved public forums and written submissions.

What are the strategy's principles and goals?
Achieving the overall purposes of the strategy is a society-wide responsibility, requiring a collaborative approach among many agencies and individuals. All activities undertaken to meet these purposes should be guided by the principles of: addressing Maori issues; reducing health inequalities; and ensuring timely and equitable access for all New Zealanders to comprehensive health and disability services, regardless of ability to pay. The services should also reflect: high quality; sustainability; an evidence-based and person-centred approach; consumer and community involvement; and recognition and respect of cultural diversity.

The goals of the strategy are to:

- Reduce the incidence of cancer through primary prevention
- Ensure effective screening and early detection to reduce cancer incidence and mortality
- Ensure effective diagnosis and treatment to reduce cancer morbidity and mortality
- Improve the quality of life for those with cancer, their family and whanau through support, rehabilitation and palliative care
- Improve the delivery of services across the continuum of cancer control through effective planning, coordination, and integration of resources and activity, monitoring and evaluation
- Improve the effectiveness of cancer control in New Zealand through research and surveillance.

What is the next step?

The strategy includes 25 objectives to support the six goals, along with broad areas for action to achieve the objectives. The next phase will include developing an implementation plan.


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