NZ's cancer death rates worse than Australia's due to medicine inaccessibility - oncologist

  • Updated
  • 07/08/2018

The number of cancer deaths may increase if the country's approach to the disease isn't urgently addressed.

Australian oncologist Professor John Zalcberg will speak at a Parliamentary Dinner on Wednesday about why he believes our survival rates are falling behind Australia's.

He told The AM Show lots of factors are behind the different survival rates, but lack of access to medicines is a big one.

"Access to medicines in New Zealand has been good over past years but with the explosion of new medicines coming... New Zealand is missing out," he said.

"They're missing out every day of the week."

Tauranga woman Leisa Renwick knows about a lack of access to life saving medicines, she took dabrafenib and keytruda to treat her melanoma. Overall the treatment cost around $100,000.

"They were available, just not available publically funded and that was the sad thing. I mean there are private cancer clinics all over this country now that didn't exist a few years ago," she told The AM Show.

"I met people who died because they couldn't get access to the same drug that I was able to access to for simple reasons of good luck, because I was able to pay for them."

Keytruda has since been made available publically, but dabrafenib is still not, despite the fact it is funded overseas.

Prof Zalcberg said drugs like dabrafenib that could be available in New Zealand simply aren't even though other countries pay for them.

"The reality is that in Australia we're buying these drugs, in Latvia they're buying these drugs, in Greece which nearly went under a few years ago they're buying these drugs," he said.

"They're broke, they're buying these drugs so why is it that New Zealand can't buy these drugs?"

Prof Zalcberg said drug buying agency Pharmac needs to change to ensure New Zealanders can get access to life saving medicines.

"The purchasing and the decision making agency is Pharmac, we heard from the Prime Minister, Pharmac's great at doing the contracts, it's done well for New Zealand, I think the culture's wrong," he said.

"The culture needs to be the patient is number one."

The Cancer Society's Dr Chris Jackson told Newshub he agrees New Zealand is lagging behind and the matter needs immediate attention.

"What's clear is that 2500 New Zealanders died from cancer whose lives could have been saved if they were treated in Australia over the course of the last five years," he said.

Dr Jackson says the number of deaths could increase thanks to our aging population.

"Cancer does tend to increase as people get older and as a result we're going to have more people affected by cancer every single year," he said.