Maori face higher risk of cancer

  • 15/10/2015
Maori face higher risk of cancer

Maori, who are getting cancer at higher rates than Pakeha, are also getting the disease at a higher rate than the indigenous people of Australia, the US and Canada, ground-breaking research shows.

Massey University and Australia's Menzies School of Health Research researchers have investigated and compared, for the first time, the cancer burden on indigenous populations in the four countries.

The four were chosen because they were wealthy and had similar histories of colonisation and disproportionate poverty, health and lower life-expectancy for the indigenous populations.

The research has been published in the Lancet this week.

It was already known that native Americans, Aborigines and Maori had worse health results than later arrivals but there were clear differences in the cancers hitting the different populations.

Compared to the non-indigenous population, the overall cancer burden was substantially lower in indigenous populations in the USA (except for women in Alaska), similar or slightly lower in Australia and Canada, and higher in New Zealand.

The most commonly occurring cancers among indigenous men in all countries were lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer and in women it was breast, lung and colorectal cancers.

It is not yet clear why Maori are getting cancer at a greater rate than the others.

Lead author Suzanne Moore says lower overall incidence in some countries is the result of a lower incidence of several of the most commonly occurring cancers.

"The reasons for this are not well understood, but probably include competing causes of death at an early age and lower frequency of cancer screening, especially for colorectal and prostate cancers."

In a linked Lancet comment on the research, the study authors say the striking thing is the high incidence of preventable cancers, especially those associated with smoking (eg, lung, and head and neck cancers) and chronic infection (including stomach, liver, and cervical cancers).

"These findings strengthen the argument for a strategic focus on the burden of cancer in indigenous people, the need for better monitoring, and the development of interventions that address the factors that drive cancer inequities."