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BACKGROUND: Patients who received private health care appear to have better survival from breast cancer compared to those who received public care. This study investigated if this applied to New Zealand women and identified factors that could explain such disparities. METHODS: This study involved all women who were diagnosed with primary breast cancer in two health regions in New Zealand, covering about 40% of the national population, between June 2000 and May 2013. Patients who received public care for primary treatment, mostly surgical treatment, were compared with those who received private care in terms of demographics, mode of presentation, disease factors, comorbidity index and treatment factors. Cox regression modelling was performed with stepwise adjustments, and hazards of breast cancer specific mortality associated with the type of health care received was assessed. RESULTS: Of the 14,468 patients, 8,916 (61.6%) received public care. Compared to patients treated in private care facilities, they were older, more likely to be Māori, Pacifika or Asian and to reside in deprived neighbourhoods and rural areas, and less likely to be diagnosed with early staged cancer and to receive timely cancer treatments. They had a higher risk of mortality from breast cancer (hazard ratio: 1.95; 95% CI: 1.75, 2.17), of which 80% (95% CI: 63%, 100%) was explained by baseline differences, particularly related to ethnicity, stage at diagnosis and type of loco-regional therapy. After controlling for these demographic, disease and treatment factors, the risk of mortality was still 14% higher in the public sector patients. CONCLUSIONS: Ethnicity, stage at diagnosis and type of loco-regional therapy were the three key contributors to survival disparities between patients treated in public and private health care facilities in New Zealand. The findings underscore the need for more efforts to improve the quality, timeliness and equitability of public cancer care services.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Breast Neoplasms, Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast, Carcinoma, Lobular, Combined Modality Therapy, Delivery of Health Care, Ethnic Groups, Female, Hospitals, Private, Hospitals, Public, Humans, Middle Aged, Neoplasm Grading, Neoplasm Staging, Prognosis, Prospective Studies, Receptor, ErbB-2, Survival Rate, Time-to-Treatment