Cancer research: Universities join forces to study prevention, inequities

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Otago, Massey and Victoria universities researchers are joining forces for research on a leading form of death in New Zealand.

The Cancer Society is donating $2 million to fund the Cancer Society Research Collaboration (CSRC) that will focus on cancer prevention and support.

The researchers will look in particular at inequities in the impact of cancer on Māori and non-Māori.

Dr Rachael McLean from the University of Otago is one of the researchers and said there was evidence that Māori diagnosed with cancer are more likely to die from it.

“That’s to do with later diagnosis and possibly poorer options for supportive care post-diagnosis,” she told Morning Report.

“Finding out more specifically about why Māori are finding it more difficult to quit smoking and remain smoke-free is also an important area of our investigations.”

Cancer is the leading cause of death globally and in New Zealand accounted for a third of all this country’s deaths in 2015. New Zealand has some of the highest incidence rates of breast, bowel, prostate and melanoma skin cancer in the world.

Specific research themes include progressing a Smokefree Aotearoa, skin cancer prevention, improving nutrition, reducing obesity and alcohol-related harm, promoting physical activity, preventing infection-related cancers and improving cancer care and support.

“We know that obesity prevalence is higher among Māori and [Pasifika] and people who live in deprived areas and so we need to also focus on other elements of health lifestyle,” Dr McLean said.

Cancer Society chief executive Mike Kernaghan said there had been a significant change in how the organisation funded the five-year research programme grant, and was for the first time opening up the opportunity to the wider research community.

“We expect to see important new knowledge come from this in the prevention, supportive care and psychosocial areas of cancer.”

The team includes experts in public health, Māori health, social science, Pacific health and clinical medicine.