Cancer is the second leading cause of death for Māori. Each year, approximately 730 Māori men and women will die of cancer, five times more than will die of respiratory disease (approx. 150) and almost as many as will die of cardiovascular disease (approx. 860). In Unequal Impact II, Robson et al. estimated that Māori are nearly 80% more likely to die of cancer compared to non-Māori (mortality rate: non-Māori: 63 per 100,000, Māori 112 per 100,000). Nearly a third of all cancer deaths among Māori will be caused by lung cancer.
As well as being more likely to die of their cancer, there is some evidence that Māori patients with terminal cancer are more likely to experience poor quality of life and palliative care. Māori access to palliative care services has been identified as an important issue 13 – for example, there is some evidence that Māori are more likely to access palliative care services at the imminent death stage, and thus too late in their cancer journey for these services to positively impact the quality of their life. The impact of this latency on access to pain-relieving medication in the final months of life remains entirely unknown.
Dr Jason Gurney (Ngāpuhi) has been awarded an HRC Māori Emerging Leader Fellowship to further investigate cancer survival and palliative care disparities between Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders. His Fellowship has the following objectives:
- To identify and prioritise cancers for which the most urgent attention is needed to improve survival outcomes for Māori;
- To describe the most important quality of life and palliative care priorities for terminally-ill Māori patients suffering from these priority cancers;
- To determine the extent to which survival, quality of life and palliative care factors are modifiable, and at what level, for each priority cancer;
- To propose the key social and health service investments required to improve these outcomes for Māori as quickly as possible.