National | Cancer

Urgent need for national Māori liver cancer programme

) A national liver programme for Māori is urgently needed, according to a national group of Māori cancer specialists.

Hei Ahuru Mōwai, Māori Cancer Leadership Aotearoa claims liver cancer is increasing and Māori have a higher incidence and mortality rate than non-Māori.

More than 60 Māori are diagnosed with liver cancer every year.

Dr Jason Gurney (Ngāpuhi) told Te Ao Tapatahi around half of all Māori that develop liver cancer suffered from hepatitis. The virus causes inflammation and scarring of the liver. The condition often leads to cancer.

He says a national screening programme for hepatitis that includes treatment and surveillance would save lives.

“If we know that a person has had hepatitis in the past, we can then follow that person up over time, to keep an eye on their liver, to see whether or not there's any scarring developing and try and catch the cancer early, when it's still treatable.”

Why Māori?

Gurney says infectious diseases such as hepatitis is often related to poverty.

“Because hepatitis is such a potent cause of liver cancer, Māori are therefore more likely to develop liver cancer as a result.”

Hepatitis B is preventable through vaccines but isn’t curable. Hepatitis C is treatable with anti-viral therapies.

“It's extremely important for us to get those immunizations sorted. They’re free for everyone under the age of 18.”

Hepatitis in prisons

Gurney says international studies also indicate up to half of all inmates in prisons could contract hepatitis.

“It would be useful for us to do what they call a ‘test and treat’ programme within prisons for hepatitis. There is good evidence that that sort of program can work and given the Māori population within prisons, it’s another important area of focus for us.

“We need solutions that first and foremost are designed by Māori and work for Māori ... this is our best chance of getting real solutions that work for Māori,” Gurney says.