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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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New appointment advances cancer research

The appointment of Lis Ellison-Loschmann as Mäori Health Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Health Research represents a significant step forward for cancer research within the University, says Centre Director Professor Neil Pearce. Her four-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, and includes two years at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

“ One in four people get cancer at some time in their lives and one in five die from it. We also know the differences between Mäori and non-Mäori life expectancy rates are partly due to cancer.”

Cancer is a major public health issue in New Zealand, as in other developed countries. It ranks second as a cause of death (after cardiovascular disease), accounting for more than a quarter of all deaths in the late 1990s. Furthermore, the burden of cancer – especially tobacco-related cancer – falls disproportionately on Mäori and on poor individuals, families and communities, so contributing to health inequality. Most importantly, the causes of many cancers are understood and significant proportions are preventable or amenable to early detection through screening and subsequent follow-up treatment. Cancer is included as a priority objective in the New Zealand Health Strategy, launched in 2000.

Ms Ellison-Loschmann (Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa, Te Atiawa, and Ngai Tahu) will study the incidence, mortality and survival from cancer among Mäori.

She will investigate factors that influence cancer survival including age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and features of the cancer itself. She will also investigate possible explanations for socioeconomic and ethnic differences in cancer survival, as well as researching occupational cancer and exposure to occupational carcinogens in Mäori.

The main study that she will work on during the postdoctoral fellowship is a case-control study of breast cancer in Mäori. Recent research suggests that Mäori would be expected to have lower breast cancer rates that non-Mäori because of the larger number of children and earlier age at first birth among Mäori (both of which may protect against breast cancer). However, available evidence suggests cancer mortality is significantly higher among Mäori than non-Mäori, and breast cancer incidence may also be higher.

Ms Ellison-Loschmann says she started a pilot study in August, drawn from Mäori, Pacific and other ethnicities. “The purpose of the pilot study is to test the instruments and process and adjust them if necessary,” she says. “Cancer survival rates among Mäori appear to be lower than for others. This raises questions about access to health care, and access through care, once you are in the system.”

Created: 27 August, 2004

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