National | Cancer

Research shows a quarter of all Māori deaths are due to cancer

Research published on Friday in the New Zealand Medical Journal shows more than a quarter of all deaths among Māori are attributable to cancer.

The research also points to the differences between Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders in terms of who gets cancer, who dies from it and who survives.

One of the research writers is an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, Dr Jason Gurney of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine.

Explaining the purpose of the research, Dr Gurney says, "We were updating the evidence on the work of what has come before us in terms of trying to understand what the most important cancers are for Māori, but also what cancers Māori are dying off."

The research finds that lung cancer tops the chart. "More than 300 Māori die every year of lung cancer and that's as many as the next five or six cancers combined."

Though the numbers are concerning, Dr Gurney says some of these cancers, including lung and liver cancer, are preventable.

"These are cancers that are linked to diet, obesity and those sorts of things. It's kind of good and sad news. The good news is that these cancers are preventable, the bad news is that we do have a long way to go to sort this out," he says.

"This isn't about telling Māori, 'Hey Māori, you need to do this, we need to do this differently'.  What we talk about in the paper is the structural issues, there are things that we need to deal with at a central level. That's where we're going to get our biggest bang for buck."