ANZASW Statement on Pink Ribbon Appeal and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) supports the Pink Ribbon street appeal which begins today, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Today we pay tribute to survivors, those living with the condition and their families / whānau. We also acknowledge those who have lost their lives to breast cancer and all those who have to live with such loss. It is difficult to find a community in this country that has not been impacted by some type of carcinoma; breast cancer remains one of the most frequently diagnosed forms of the disease for women in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Social workers support people with breast cancer in a range of ways. We enhance the capacity of clients and their family / whānau to cope with the impact of diagnosis and treatment, working collaboratively to develop strategies and support networks that strengthen their physical, mental and emotional health. This can include psychosocial support, facilitation of access to counselling and external practical assistance, such as welfare entitlements. Social workers also play a role in palliative care services.

We appeal to all New Zealanders over the age of 40 to get checked for breast cancer regularly. Early diagnosis greatly increases the odds of survival and the ability to return to full health after treatment. Women aged between 45-69 can enrol with the NZ breast screening programme for a two-yearly free mammogram.

We urge men not to avoid screening; while they are less likely to develop the condition, around 25 are diagnosed every year; the rates of undiagnosed male breast cancer could be far higher. Embarrassment or lack of awareness of the risks could prevent life-saving early intervention.

The Association is troubled to note that minority communities, particularly Tangata Whenua, continue to have higher rates of diagnosis and mortality than others. According to the Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand, the death rate for Māori is 60 % higher than for non-Māori. Studies have indicated that social factors such as lower average incomes, marginalisation, structural discrimination and overcrowded housing combined with poor or late access to healthcare contribute to such trends, which also disproportionately affect minorities overseas.

As social workers, we recognise the connection between social conditions, unmet needs and ill health and hope to see changes to these statistics through accelerated efforts to reduce inequity in Aotearoa New Zealand.

ANZASW supports all efforts to increase the survival rate for breast cancer- including research, awareness-raising campaigns, preventative measures and increasing access to screening and treatment. We believe the Pink Ribbon appeal plays an important role in advancing this goal.

To all involved in this cause, we say: Kia Kaha!