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Laban: Central Cancer Network Fono

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban

26 August, 2008
Central Cancer Network Fono

Speech at the Central Cancer Network Fono, 174 Bedford Street, Porirua

Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Kia orana, Ia Orana, Gud de tru olgeta, Taloha ni, Talofa, Kia ora tatou and Warm Pacific Greetings to you all this morning.

I am extremely pleased that I am able to join you for this important meeting between the Pacific community and the Central Cancer Network.

Thank you to everyone for taking the time to attend. I would particularly like to acknowledge the Central Cancer Network's management team - Jo Anson Regional Manger, Dr Simon Allan Clinical Director at Mid Central DHB, and Dr Andrew Simpson, Clinical Director for Cancer Services at Wellington Hospital. I know firsthand what a wonderful job Andrew does.

I would also like to acknowledge your guest speaker from the Ministry of Health, Anne Allen-Moetaua, all the representatives from District Health Boards, primary health organisations, non-government organisations and the attendance of so many important leaders from the Pacific community.

This fono is an important opportunity to develop partnerships that strengthen our understanding of the importance of good information and access to cancer services for our Pacific communities. This is a very important challenge and it requires all of us to develop an open and transparent process that leads to some clear outcomes and numbers.

About a third of New Zealanders – that's about 1.4 million people - have experience of cancer, either themselves or through a friend or family member.

That’s a large number of people who have themselves been diagnosed as having cancer and have experienced the worry and anxiety that it causes. There is also an enormous number of people who have supported a friend or family member or have lost someone to cancer.

There are about 17,000 new registrations for cancer each year – people with families/whānau/aiga/kaianga and friends, all of whom are affected by the treatment and the result for their friend or family member.

Government's commitment
Our Labour-led government is hugely committed to ensuring that health services are accessible for all New Zealanders. We are particularly focused on primary health care and prevention of illnesses. We are taking cancer extremely seriously and are committed to reducing illness and deaths from cancer which affects the lives of many New Zealanders.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Helen Clark announced $164 million of new funding over five years to a major immunisation programme to fight cervical cancer. Health Minister David Cunliffe also announced the fast tracking of a national colorectal cancer screening programme – this is a cancer that is New Zealand's second biggest killer but is amenable to early detection and is very treatable.

It is by no means an exaggeration to say that cancer services in New Zealand are extremely important. Our government recognised this in 2003 with the creation of the Cancer Control Strategy, with the key purpose to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer. We continued to recognise this with the development of the Cancer Strategy’s Action Plan in 2005 and with the setup of the four regional cancer networks in 2006.

Each of the networks have been funded more than a quarter of a million dollars each year, as we focus on closing existing gaps in services, ensuring greater co-ordination of developing services, and that scarce and finite resources are being used efficiently and effectively. This brings together DHB's, non-governmental organisations, primary health organisations, consumers and other stakeholders to work collectively to improve access to cancer services and ensure patients have the right information.

The government and the Cancer Networks are committed to improving cancer services in New Zealand because we are committed to reducing the impact of cancer on our communities. Your presence here today indicates your commitment.

Breast cancer
There are many types of cancer, but the one I have been asked to pay special attention to today is breast cancer. I will start by sharing some statistics with you:
• 1 in 3 cancers occurring in New Zealand women is breast cancer
• The age range where the incidence of breast cancer is highest is women aged 50-54
• Over 6 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each day
• Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women - over 600 women die from breast cancer each year
• 1 in 10 women in New Zealand will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime
• Each year about 2500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer – last year I was one of these women.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to be told that the outcome of a person’s cancer treatment is greatly improved by the cancer being caught and treated early.

Some women are diagnosed early and are treated early. Some women are diagnosed once the cancer has begun to spread to nearby organs and bodily systems. And some women are, unfortunately, only diagnosed when the cancer has significantly developed further into their bodies.

Breast cancer in Pacific women
When looking specifically at Pacific women, the number diagnosed with breast cancer has increased dramatically over the last decade. We now have nearly 100 Pacific women being diagnosed each year.

Recent statistics show that 32 per cent of Pacific breast cancer cases were detected at an early stage, compared to 39 per cent for Māori and 45 per cent for European and other ethnic groups.

This trend of Pacific women taking longer to report their cancer symptoms is also shown in other statistics. For example, Pacific women are also far more likely to report their breast cancer symptoms once the cancer has spread significantly than women in other ethnic groups and Pacific women are 20 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than other New Zealand women.

These statistics make it clear that Pacific women are reporting breast cancer later than women from other ethnicities, and this is allowing the cancer to be more developed, which affects the outcome of the cancer treatment.

It is therefore vital that we continue to see more and more Pacific women being screened. While recent figures show that over the past two years nearly 1900 more Pacific women were screened for breast cancer, with a 9 per cent increase since 2006 to 49.8 per cent, this is well below the 63.7 per cent figure for European and other ethnic groups (Māori is 47.1 per cent).

Breast Screen Aotearoa's programme provides two-yearly FREE breast screening for eligible women aged 45 to 69 aims to screen 70 per cent. Their vision of their National Advisory Committee is, 'saving lives, reducing inequalities and building the nation's health by leading the delivery of screening programmes, uncompromising in their quality and trusted by the communities we serve'.

We all have a role in seeing our Pacific women coverage figures move closer to that for all women. If we are to fight the sort of inequalities I have just described, then we need to arm our communities with the best information and the best links within the community.

We know through research that routine breast screening reduces a woman’s chance of dying of breast cancer by between 20 to 45 per cent.

Campaigns around breast screening particularly focus on messages that appeal to Māori and Pacific women, raising awareness and focus in normalising the subject of screening and increase understanding about its benefits.

The tone of these campaigns is positive, with a focus on respect, knowledge and support for good reason. There is a lack of awareness about breast screening in general but particularly among Māori and Pacific women who also have cultural issues about their bodies to deal with.

Personal experience
The reason I went public with my experience of breast cancer is I wanted to encourage all women, but particularly Pacific women to have regular mammograms as early diagnosis provides a great chance of a good outcome.

There is reluctance amongst women to talk about these issues, as we are often frightened and private about our bodies. I hope that my sharing my story the fear will be taken out of breast cancer.

My breast cancer was found through a routine mammogram.

My message is have breast checks. We can survive cancer to live a long and happy life with our families – and regularly screening makes this more likely. We want our women to encourage and support one another to be screened, and be supported by their husbands, partners, brothers, sons and families.

We need to make sure that that our people are aware of the risks of cancer and know who to talk to and how to get information. While more Pacific women are being screened now than in the past, there are still very many eligible Pacific women who are not getting screened. We need to encourage these women to get screened so that cancers can be detected and treated as early as possible.

It has been great to see organisations like PACIFICA holding events to increase awareness of the issues, and encourage and support our women to have regular mammograms.

This fono and your presence today is extremely important. As leaders of the Pacific community you have the opportunity to gather information that can be of great value to your communities and to help those communities make connections to cancer professionals.

I would like to close today my impressing on you the opportunity that faces you today. We have here leaders from the Pacific Community and leaders from the Cancer Network. This is an opportunity to bring these two groups together and form partnerships for the benefit of our communities.

I am sure you will all make the best of this opportunity.

Thank you for inviting me here today. And more importantly thank you for the work that you do in our communities.

Fa’afetai tele ma la manuia.


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