Breast Cancer Deadlier for Pasifika, Māori and Young Women Despite Improvements in Survival Rates

Breast cancer remains deadlier for Pasifika, Maori and young women according to the first ever report released yesterday on World Cancer Day by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

Data from Te Rēhita Mate Ūtaetae – Breast Cancer Foundation National Register, revealed that despite overall improvements in survival, there are many women who have not benefited to anywhere near the same extent.

Te Rēhita provides an up-to-date picture of breast cancer in the country, holding information of  more than 40,000 patients since the year 2000. The report covers 30,000 patients diagnosed from 2003 to 2019.

Key findings from 30,000 voices: Informing a better future for breast cancer in New Zealand, include:

  • Pacific women 52% more likely to die of breast cancer within 10 years than Pākehā. Pasifika had the highest rate of stage 3 and 4 breast cancers and of HER2+ cancers, and more grade 3 tumours than all other ethnicities.
  • Younger women (under 45) had much lower 10-year survival than the 45-69 age group: 82% compared to 89%.
  • Wāhine Māori were 33% more likely to die of breast cancer within 10 years than Pākehā and more likely to have higher-risk HER2+ breast cancer.
  • Of all breast cancers diagnosed in 2020, 7% fewer were found by mammogram than in 2019 (likely as a result of paused and reduced screening during the COVID-19 lockdown), meaning they were diagnosed later than they should have been.
  • For women with grade 3 or stage 3 breast cancer, and those with triple negative breast cancer, the survival difference widened sharply by 10 years.
  • The five-year risk of dying of breast cancer has halved since 2003, but 10-year rates expose the drastic differences that exist for the most vulnerable groups and those with high-risk cancers.

CEO of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ Ah-Leen Rayner, says while there have been significant  improvements in survival rates, we are still losing more than 650 women to breast cancer every year.

Our comprehensive review of the Register data shows our Māori, Pasifika and younger women, and those with larger or more aggressive cancers, are being left behind. On top this, COVID-19’s devastating impact on breast screening is putting even more women at risk.CEO Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, Ah-Leen Rayner

She says they cannot allow the pandemic to keep pushing other health issues to the side-lines, as our most vulnerable women will be the ones to suffer.

To download a copy of 30,000 voices: Informing a better future for breast cancer in New Zealand, please visit