What needs to be done to stop New Zealand falling behind in cancer care

The 30th anniversary of Daffodil Day has brought sobering statistics for New Zealanders - the number of people with cancer has tripled since 1990 and one third of Kiwis diagnosed will die.

Friday marks the anniversary and Dr Chris Jackson, the medical director of the cancer society, says the statistics show the battle against cancer is a "ferocious challenge".

"The numbers are going up as the population ages," he told The AM Show.

It's not all terrible - he says cure rates are the highest they have ever been and Kiwis are more likely than ever to have their cancer detected early and get better treatment for it. 

Despite these improvements Dr Jackson did not shy away from the fact that there's more work needed.

"There is so much more to do to turn these grizzly statistics around," he said.

One of these things is to improve drug funding - Dr Jackson trained in oncology in the UK and says when he returned to New Zealand, he was shocked that roughly a third of the medications he was using in the UK were not an option.

It's a similar situation over the ditch too.

"'We talk to our Australian counterparts all the time and they as well have things that we just do not have access to," he said. 

"New Zealand is falling behind in cancer outcomes."

As well as pushing harder for funding Dr Jackson stressed the need for preventative care as 80 percent of cancers are avoidable.

Here too, there has been some improvement - New Zealand's smoking rates have dropped to 15 percent - but there's still more to be done.

"That 15 percent of people who smoke need to join the 85 percent who don't."