Pacific Island women more at risk

Pink Ribbon Express is pleased to report that screening rates for Pasifika women aged 45 to 69, released by BreastScreen Aotearoa, have increased from 64 per cent to 72 per cent of the eligible population since 2010.

Over the same period, screening rates for Maori women increased from 60 per cent to nearly 65 per cent, while rates for European women went from 70 to 72 per cent.

The jump in screening rates for Pacific Island women is significant as this group has a higher mortality rate from breast cancer than other ethnic groups in New Zealand. Pacific Island women have a 54% greater risk of dying from breast cancer than European women according to data collected by the NZBCF funded Auckland Breast Cancer Patient Register.

The five year breast cancer survival rate for Pacific island women is lower at 79% compared to 87% for NZ European women. Reasons for the higher mortality rate of both Pacific Island and Maori women are complex, notes Evangelia Henderson, Chief Executive Officer for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF).

“Cultural barriers, awareness and accessibility to screening can play a part. Often women present too late for effective treatment. This means if there is breast cancer, it is often well established by the time they see their doctor or health professional.”

Providers to BreastScreen Aotearoa, the National Screening Unit, recruit Pacific Island women, aged 45 years and older for their free mammogram through targeted programmes. Prior to the mobile screening unit’s arrival in a community, recruitment methods can include direct calling, holding health days at local Pasifika churches and playing Pacific language messages on local radio.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF) also focuses education at Pacific Island women with the release last year of a breast health DVD “Love, Faith and Hope” (pictured) recorded in three different Pasifika languages. Last October, the NZBCF ran advertising on Health TV in doctors’ waiting rooms around the country.

“While it’s pleasing to see a jump in the number of Pacific women going for mammograms, the real success will be an increase in the five year breast cancer survival rate for this particular group, and Maori women too”, says NZBCF’s Evangelia Henderson.

The NZBCF will continue to target donor funds towards reaching and educating higher risk groups with a goal to closing ethnic gaps and reducing mortality rates from breast cancer.

If you're a health professional working with Pacific Island communitiesorder a free DVD copy of 'Love, Faith and Hope' here