Many with bowel cancer unaware

Last updated 05:00 04/06/2014

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Many people could be living with undiagnosed bowel cancer, one of the country's leading bowel surgeons says.

New Zealand has the highest rate of bowel cancer in the world, yet it is still unknown what causes the cancer to develop in more than 90 per cent of cases, Professor Frank Frizelle, from the University of Otago, Christchurch campus, said.

Bowel cancer is the country's second-most deadly cancer.

It kills more than 1200 Kiwis each year, matching the combined death rate for prostate and breast cancer.

However, unlike breast, cervical or prostate cancer, the bowel disease does not have a national screening programme or a public awareness campaign.

In New Zealand, 3000 cases of bowel cancer are detected every year; Canterbury would have about 300 of those cases.

"Why does someone get bowel cancer? In most cases we just don't know yet," Frizelle said.

His main research theme is trying to find out what causes the disease.

Frizelle hoped the Government would roll out a national screening programme for bowel cancer because, he said, "we know it will save lives".

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa has been calling for a national screening programme for years.

To mark this year's bowel cancer awareness month, a four-metre-long, disease-ridden inflatable colon is on display at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

The giant display is large enough for the public to walk through and will be at the university until Friday.

The Ministry of Health has been running a bowel cancer pilot screening programme at the Waitemata District Health Board for the past two years.

The trial has detected invasive cancer in 129 otherwise healthy men and women over the age of 65.

The pilot is now halfway through its four-year programme and, as it finishes, the Government "will analyse what has worked and what hasn't and will make a decision on rolling out a national programme", a ministry spokesman said.

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