Accuracy & Equity in Prostate Cancer Diagnosis in New Zealand

A New Approach to Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in New Zealand, and there are significant disparities in terms of diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. Our project at Mātai aims to change this. 


We’re using advanced MRI techniques to improve how prostate cancer is diagnosed. This approach helps doctors decide whether a biopsy is needed and assists in performing targeted biopsies. Not only does this method help diagnose more serious prostate cancers, it also reduces the diagnosis of less serious cases and reduces the overall need for biopsies. 


Our project, generously supported by the Hugh Green Foundation and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand, has already introduced this new diagnostic pathway in Tairāwhiti. By showing how effective this pathway is, we hope to advocate for it to become the standard of care throughout Te Whatu Ora Tairāwhiti.

Prostate Cancer: The Current Scenario

At present, the standard practice in New Zealand is to perform a non-guided biopsy based on age and PSA levels. This method has several drawbacks: 

– It often misses the tumour (in about 25% of cases) 

– It can lead to underestimation of the tumour’s size 

– It may unintentionally detect non-significant cancer 


This current approach falls short in identifying younger men with significant, but treatable disease. It also has a low rate of screening in the most vulnerable populations and in populations most likely to benefit. 

Our Approach: MRI and Targeted Biopsies

Our new diagnostic pathway uses MRI before a biopsy, which helps identify about 30% of men who can avoid invasive biopsies. We’ve worked with GE Healthcare to develop a 10-15 minute MRI scan protocol, much faster than the standard scan time of up to 45 minutes. This reduction in time lowers costs and enables more widespread use. 


Furthermore, performing a targeted biopsy allows for better understanding of the size, grade, and location of prostate cancers. This information is essential for personalized treatment planning. 

Prostate Cancer in New Zealand

Prostate cancer is a major health concern in New Zealand, with about 30,000 men living with prostate cancer that requires surveillance. Every year, around 650 New Zealand men die from prostate cancer. The 5-year survival rate is 98% with early diagnosis and drops to less than 20% if diagnosed late. 

Inequalities in Prostate Cancer Outcomes

Men living in rural locations face higher mortality rates from prostate cancer and have lower screening rates, less intensive diagnostics, longer wait times, and later diagnoses. Our new diagnostic pathway aims to provide an equitable service which will improve prostate outcomes for all men in Tairāwhiti.

Get Involved

If you are under 70 years old and have a PSA level higher than 3, you may be eligible to participate in this new approach. If you are concerned about prostate cancer, speak with your GP about prostate cancer screening with a PSA blood test and physical exam. 

For students interested in auditing the clinical service, please reach out to us for potential opportunities. 

Watch the On Target Docuseries, filmed by international film-maker Mikey Kay

Thank you to our funders: