Cancer Atlas NZ

Supporting the development of a national cancer atlas for New Zealand. 


The Challenge

In 2011 the Australia and New Zealand Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRSCI) oversaw the publication of the Atlas of Cancer in Queensland: Geographical variation in incidence and survival 1998 to 2007. The success of that project led to a subsequent Australian Cancer Atlas in which the scope of enquiry was extended to an Australia-wide level. Launched in September 2018, the Australian Cancer Atlas is a cutting-edge digital analysis tool that maps the burden of cancer geographically. 

This project established a collaboration between the NZ Ministry of Health and FrontierSI (the successor of the CRCSI) which enabled the former to acquire the methodology and expertise involved in the Queensland/Australia Cancer Atlases for application in a New Zealand setting. The challenge was to understand and model the geographical variances of the incidence and survival of different cancers at small area levels without compromising patient privacy. 



The project partners were the New Zealand Government through its Ministry of Health (MOH), Cancer Council Queensland (CCQ) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT).


The Solution 

The key aspect of this project was to develop small area estimates of cancer incidence and survival using novel modelling techniques for ingestion into a NZ online platform. The project focussed on knowledge exchange and collaboration between the Australian partners and NZ MOH to build capability.

The Australian methodology was applied to New Zealand Cancer data to quantify the spatial variation in incidence and survival for a range of cancer indicators across New Zealand. Additionally, there was an analysis of uncertainty associated with the estimates. These combined analyses provided valuable insight into the geographic patterns of cancer over time, and the output provides the New Zealand public, government, researchers and the wider health sector with unique insight into the geographic distribution of cancer and the spatial variation in cancer outcomes across New Zealand. 

Key deliverables from this project were:

  • Statistical models and algorithms based on those produced for the development of the Australian Cancer Atlas
  • Code for use in conjunction with open-source software as a means to compare large, complex data
  • Spatial data products including point estimates and measures of uncertainty for cancer screening, incidence and survival for a range of cancer types
  • Spatio-temporal analysis of modelled data
  • A static report of research findings authored by the Ministry of Health with revisions and guidance from FrontierSI



The knowledge transfer that enabled NZ MOH to derive their small areas estimates for input into their online platform, provides health agencies and policy makers a better understanding of geographic disparities and health requirements related to cancer across NZ. It helps people learn about the cancer burden where they live and is a tool to raise awareness of how cancer risk can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices. The information ultimately helps address inequalities in cancer outcomes, health service planning and the broad understanding of cancer in New Zealand. 

Through this knowledge transfer project, the data products contributed to:

  • New insights into the impact of geographic inequalities in cancer survival
  • Improved awareness among policy makers
  • Translating observed spatial patterns into targeted policies for reducing geographical inequalities in cancer indicators 
  • Informing Ministry of Health strategic priorities, in particular the reduction of variations in cancer indicators between urban and rural areas and between socio-economic groups



Please contact us at or Project Director Paula Fievez at