$1.2 million for Mäori cancer care and
cervical cancer research


Dr Lis Ellison-Loschmann

Statistics showing Mäori are 9 per cent more likely to get cancer than non-Mäori – and 77 per cent more likely  to die of it than other New Zealanders – have prompted the Health Research Council to fund two Massey University research projects aimed at improving overall cancer care for Mäori patients and increasing the rate of survival for cervical cancer.

Dr Lis Ellison-Loschmann, from the University's Centre for Public Health Research in Wellington, will lead both projects thanks to grants totalling more than $1.2 million from the council.

While one study will look at the issue of care of Mäori patients, the other will investigate differences in cervical cancer survival rates between women of different ethnicities; the study will also look at differences in survival by socio-economic status, age, and proximity to health services at time of diagnosis.

A team of 16 researchers including three of Massey’s most highly regarded academics – Professor Chris Cunningham, Professor Mason Durie and Professor Neil Pearce – will conduct a national study of Mäori diagnosed with cancer, their whänau and cancer care service providers.

Other researchers in that study, which has funding of $574,465, are drawn from District Health Boards, Mäori primary health organisations, hospice organisations and the Cancer Society.

Dr Ellison-Loschmann (Te Atiawa, Ngäi Tahu, Ngäti Toa Rangatira, Ngäti Raukawa and Tahitian) says access to care, and the quality of care, can have a substantial impact on cancer outcomes, both in terms of quality of life and survival.

“The worldwide burden of cancer has been increasing for the past few decades," she says. "Cancer now surpasses chronic heart disease as the leading cause of death in New Zealand. There is evidence of ethnic differences in cancer incidence and mortality, with an approximately 9 per cent higher age-sex-standardised incidence rate, and a startling 77 per cent higher age-sex-standardised mortality rate for cancer overall in Mäori compared to non-Mäori."

The findings of the study will form the basis for an integrated framework across primary, secondary, tertiary and palliative care services to improve the co-ordination of services for Mäori experiencing cancer, and will include the development of a pilot programme in four primary care settings.

“Mäori provider organisations have had a crucial role in increasing access to health service for Mäori in a variety of ways, ranging from the provision of Mäori specific services through to playing an advocacy role in the interface with mainstream service providers."

She says there is growing evidence from overseas studies that primary care can play a key role in offering continuity of care and information that is person-centred and holistic.

“The role and potential of community-based cancer care have not been previously explored in New Zealand. There is a key opportunity for Mäori providers and primary health organisations to provide guidance and facilitate access to treatment, psychosocial, medical and palliative care support services for Mäori with a cancer diagnosis within the context of whänau ora.”

Dr Ellison-Loschmann has also secured funding of $665,198 for research into inequalities in cervical cancer survival in New Zealand. “Most of the attention to date has been focused on cervical cancer in general, and very little consideration given to demographic differences in cervical cancer risks, screening treatment or survival.” she says.

For the next three years she will lead a team of 10 researchers, including Naomi Brewer who will work on the project for her PhD, and also Massey researcher Associate Professor Barry Borman. They will link all cases of cervical cancer notified between 1994 and 2005, to death registrations to identify which factors account for ethnic differences in survival. “The findings will ultimately be used to minimise barriers and reduce inequalities in cervical cancer survival in New Zealand.”

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