Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 1307–1318 | Cite as

Social inequalities or inequities in cancer incidence? Repeated census-cancer cohort studies, New Zealand 1981–1986 to 2001–2004

  • Tony BlakelyEmail author
  • Caroline Shaw
  • June Atkinson
  • Ruth Cunningham
  • Diana Sarfati
Original paper



We examine incidence trends for 18 adult cancers, by ethnicity and socioeconomic position in New Zealand.


The 1981 to 2001 censuses were linked to subsequent cancer registrations, giving 47.5 million person-years of follow-up.


Ethnicity: Pooled over time, differences were marked: Pacific and Māori rates of cervical, endometrial, stomach and pancreatic cancers were 1.5–2.5 times European/Other rates; Māori, Pacific and Asian rates of liver cancer were 5 times European/Other; European/Other rates of colorectal, bladder and brain cancers were 1.5–2 times the rates of other groups and melanoma rates 5–10 times higher; Pacific and Asian kidney cancer rates were half those of Māori and European/Other.

Over time, Māori and Pacific rates of cervical cancer fell faster and Māori rates of colorectal and breast cancer increased faster, than European/Other rates. Male lung cancer rates decreased for European/Other, were stable for Māori and increased for Pacific. Female lung cancer rates increased for all ethnic groups.

Income: Other than lung (rate ratio 1.35 men, 1.56 women), cervical (1.35) and stomach cancer (1.23), differences in incidence by income were modest or absent.


Tobacco explains many of the social group trends and differences and constitutes an inequity. Cervical cancer trends are plausibly explained by screening and sexual practices. Faster increases of colorectal and breast cancer among Māori are presumably due to changes in dietary and reproductive behaviour, but the higher Māori breast cancer rate is unexplained.

Ethnic differences in bladder, brain, endometrial and kidney cancer cannot be fully explained.


Cancer incidence Inequity Inequality Trends Socioeconomic position Ethnicity New Zealand 



We acknowledge comments on drafts of this paper from Martin Tobias, Lis Ellison Loschmann, Andrew Sporle, and Sam Harper. Cancer registry data, which are linked to the census, are provided by the Ministry of Health. This work was supported by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (06/256) and is part of the Health Inequalities Research Programme (08/048). Funding support has also been received from the Ministry of Health.The funders had no role in the writing up of this paper.

Conflict of Interest



Approval was granted for this project under the Statistics New Zealand Data Integration Policy and the Wellington Ethics Committee granted ethics approval for CancerTrends (Ref 04/10/093).

Statistics NZ Security Statement

Access to the data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand under conditions designed to give effect to the security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975. The results presented in this study are the work of the author, not Statistics New Zealand.

Supplementary material

10552_2011_9804_MOESM1_ESM.doc (165 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 165 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tony Blakely
    • 1
    Email author
  • Caroline Shaw
    • 1
  • June Atkinson
    • 1
  • Ruth Cunningham
    • 1
  • Diana Sarfati
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand

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