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Cancer death research reveals gap in data

Jackie Blue MP National Party Associate Health Spokeswoman

30 November 2007

Cancer death research reveals gap in data

National Party Associate Health spokeswoman Jackie Blue says just released research into links between occupations and cancer deaths would be almost impossible to repeat because of a gap in data collection.

"Dunedin researcher Hilda Firth should be congratulated on her painstaking research which was published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

"Dr Firth's research covered 1988 to 1997, but from 1999 occupation is no longer coded from death certificates by Statistics New Zealand, or as part of a minimum data set for hospitalised cancer patients.

"While the information is still collected as a 'text field', research is near impossible because it is not coded.

"Coding of occupation was apparently discontinued in the late 1990s because it seemed it was not being used for research, and the information was considered increasingly irrelevant because a third of occupations were being recorded as 'retired' on death certificates.

"The new research shows there is now a strong case to reverse that decision."

Dr Blue, a former breast physician, says funeral directors are responsible for recording information on death certificates and she agrees that new guidelines should be developed.

"We need to know more about cancer. The collection of reliable occupational data is an important research tool.

"The Government's first goal in its Cancer Control Strategy is to reduce the number of people developing occupational-related cancers. But it's hard to know which occupations are most at risk if the data is not being reliably collected," says Dr Blue.


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