New Zealand's Cancer Organisations Warn Of COVID Pandemic-led Drop In Cancer Being Diagnosed And Treated

20 September 2021 | Monday | News

Growing concern that people are reluctant to see their doctor about troubling symptoms during current uncertain period. This follows last year's lockdown which saw a decline in diagnosis of cancer across Aotearoa
Image Source : Public Domain

Image Source : Public Domain

  • Around 9,000 New Zealanders die of cancer every year.[2] 
  • New campaign launched today encourages people to get unusual and persistent symptoms checked by their doctor, to increase detection and improve outcomes.

Cancer organisations across New Zealand have launched a joint campaign to tackle COVID-related reluctance to come forward for testing and routine follow-up treatment for cancer. The New Normal Same Cancer: Conversations campaign aims to reduce delays in cancer being diagnosed and treated.

New Zealand is currently responding to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community. While the cancer system continues to operate well, leading cancer organisations want people to continue seeking advice on symptoms, attend screening appointments and go to their scheduled treatment during this time.

About 25,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with cancer every year[2] , most commonly breast, lung, prostate, and bowel cancer.[2] Nearly 3000 of those are Māori, who are twice as likely to die from cancer than non-Māori.[2] 

Today's new cancer campaign is supported by the Chief Executive of Te Aho o Te Kahu (, the Cancer Control Agency, Professor Diana Sarfati, who has a simple message for anyone experiencing unusual or persistent symptoms: Don't wait. Contact your doctor. Get checked.

"The uncertainty we all face with COVID has affected the way we think about our health. When we notice a new symptom, we think it will probably clear up on its own, that we do not need to see a doctor, that it can wait. But, unfortunately, cancer won't wait. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better the outcome.[3]"

The campaign urges people not to brush off or ignore symptoms such as a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, unexplained aches or pains, or an unusual lump or swelling, as any potential delays in diagnosing and treating cancer may lead to a more advanced stage of the disease at diagnosis and result in poorer patient outcomes.[3] 

Rebekah Heal, general manager of Bowel Cancer NZ, says: "This powerful campaign is vital in increasing detection, improving treatment and survival rates for all New Zealanders with cancer. So, if you have a persistent symptom like blood in your stool, please don't wait for COVID-19 to end before seeing your doctor. Because it might be too late."

Tash Crosby, Chief Executive of Talk Peach, says: "It's so important for New Zealanders to know that doctors around the country are still seeing patients, even during COVID-19 outbreaks – and it's safe to visit them. If you notice any changes to your body, please contact your GP. Early detection saves lives[3] , and cancer won't wait for the pandemic to be over. Don't put it off – you're worth it."

The cancer organisations who have joined the New Normal Same Cancer campaign are:

Prostate Cancer Foundation NZ, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, Bowel Cancer NZ, Lung Foundation NZ, Gynaecological Cancer Foundation, Talk Peach, Ovarian Cancer NZ. Their combined call to action is:

  • Contact your doctor: If you are experiencing any symptoms, are due for a screen or test, or if you feel something is wrong, talk to your doctor.
  • Reschedule testing: Book an appointment for testing or screening that you may have delayed and or missed due to COVID-19.
  • Share the message on social media: Tell your loved ones to get checked and encourage others to do the same using the hashtag #NewNormalSameCancer.

To find out more about the campaign and to watch conversations with people about their symptoms and cancer diagnosis, visit

Statistics from The State of Cancer in New Zealand 2020 Report[2] 

  • Cancer causes approximately 9,000 deaths each year in New Zealand.
  • Lung and colorectal cancer account for most cancer deaths each year - about 1,700 and 1,200, respectively.
  • Lung cancer kills more New Zealanders than any other cancer - more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma combined.
  • Cancer incidence patterns have changed, with stomach and lung cancer rates decreasing, while others – including liver and pancreatic cancers – increasing.
  • Breast cancer incidence has increased slightly over the past 20 years for both Māori and non-Māori, while uterine cancer diagnoses increased steadily.
  • Most people in New Zealand now survive cancer, with 66 per cent of all patients living at least five years after diagnosis.
  • Some common cancers have high survival rates at five years, including prostate (92 per cent), melanoma (91 per cent) and breast (89 per cent). Others have far lower rates, such as liver (21 per cent), lung (19 per cent) and pancreatic cancers (12 per cent).

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