The Northland Age
End of road for cancer caravan
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) is asking New Zealanders for help to expand its early detection education programme.
The charity is fundraising for a new, state-of-the-art pink campervan which will allow its team of specialist breast nurses to reach more women in the country’s most isolated and rural communities.
Latest figures show the regions that have the lowest participation rates in the national breast screening programme: Waikato (56.3 per cent), Tairāwhiti (58.7 per cent), Northland (63 per cent) and Bay of Plenty (63.3 per cent).
These rates fall well short of BreastScreen Aotearoa’s 70 per cent target.
With one-third of breast cancers being diagnosed outside of New Zealand’s main centres, BCFNZ is endeavouring to reach more women in these regions with its education programme to encourage more women to attend regular breast screening.
Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said: “Getting more women into screening and educating them about early detection is key to our vision of reaching zero deaths from breast cancer – especially in the wake of Covid-19 which set screening levels back by 10 years.
“But if we don’t act now, we’ll lose our one of the best tools we have to deliver our life-saving messages, as our old pink caravan faces too many limitations.”
The charity’s old pink caravan, affectionately known as Pinkie, has travelled around since 2014 with breast nurses on board, educating women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, family risk, and the importance of mammograms and self-checking.
After thousands of kilometres travelled, the iconic retro caravan has become increasingly unfit for purpose.
It relies on volunteers to tow it around, which restricts the timing and location of visits.
The charity is building a new custom-made campervan that nurses will be able to drive themselves, giving them better access to hard-toreach communities.
“We're asking New Zealanders to help us to raise the funds to build a new pink campervan, so we can take these messages to every corner of the country, no matter how remote or isolated, where women need us the most. And the impact of your donations will doubled, as a generous donor has already committed to matching every dollar raised up to $300,000,” Rayner said.
BreastScreen Aotearoa provides free mammograms to women aged 45-69 every two years, with the aim
of detecting breast cancer early, at a stage where it is easier to treat and more survivable.
The programme has achieved a 34 per cent reduction in overall breast cancer mortality in New Zealand women. But after breast screening was paused during Covid lockdowns, participation in the programme has fallen dramatically.
During 2020 and 2021 BCFNZ’s Pink Caravan visited more than 160 towns and sites across New Zealand.
BCFNZ nurses addressed the questions and concerns of more than 6000 people, enrolled 10 women each week on average with their local BreastScreen Aotearoa provider, and engaged with women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to speak to a healthcare professional.
Donations towards the new Pink Campervan can be made at www.breastcancer foundation.org.nz