Ethnic disparities in breast cancer survival in New Zealand: which factors contribute?

16 January 2018

Sandar Tin Tin, Mark Elwood, Charis Brown, Diana Sarfati, Ian Campbell, Nina Scott, Reena Ramsaroop, Sanjeewa Seneviratne, Vernon Harvey and Ross Lawrenson

Background
New Zealand has major ethnic disparities in breast cancer survival with Māori (indigenous people) and Pacific women (immigrants or descended from immigrants from Pacific Islands) faring much worse than other ethnic groups. This paper identified underlying factors and assessed their relative contribution to this risk differential.

Methods
This study involved all women who were diagnosed with primary invasive  breast cancer in two health regions, covering about 40% of the national population, between January 2000 and June 2014. Māori and Pacific patients were compared with other ethnic groups in terms of demographics, mode of diagnosis, disease factors and treatment factors. Cox regression modelling was performed with stepwise adjustments, and hazards of excess mortality from breast cancer for Māori and Pacific patients were assessed.

Results
Of the 13,657 patients who were included in this analysis, 1281 (9.4%) were Māori, and 897 (6.6%) were Pacific women. Compared to other ethnic groups, they were younger, more likely to reside in deprived neighbourhoods and to have co-morbidities, and less likely to be  diagnosed through screening and with early stage cancer, to be treated in a private care facility, to receive timely cancer treatment, and to receive breast conserving surgery. They had a higher risk of excess mortality from breast cancer (age and year of diagnosis adjusted hazard ratio: 1.76; 95% CI: 1.51–2.04 for Māori and 1.97; 95% CI: 1.67–2.32 for Pacific women), of which 75% and 99% respectively were explained by baseline differences. The most important contributor was late stage at diagnosis. Other contributors included neighbourhood deprivation, mode of diagnosis, type of health care facility where primary cancer treatment was undertaken and type of loco-regional therapy.

Conclusions
Late diagnosis, deprivation and differential access to and quality of cancer care services were the key contributors to ethnic disparities in breast cancer survival in New Zealand. Our findings underscore the need for a greater equity focus along the breast cancer care pathway, with an emphasis on improving access to early diagnosis for Māori and Pacific women.