NZ shamed over bowel cancer rates

New Zealand has been named and shamed on the world stage for having the highest rate of bowel cancer and Kiwis dying from the disease feel like "second-class tumour citizens," advocates say.

The country's second most deadly cancer kills more than 1200 Kiwis each year, matching the combined death rate for both prostate and breast cancer.

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

The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that New Zealand and Australia jointly sit at the top of the table for the worldwide incidence, mortality and prevalence rates for bowel cancer.

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA) hoped the figures would be a "real eye-opener" for New Zealand and has once again called for the Government to roll out a national screening programme.

BBCA chief executive Megan Smith said screening could prevent one in three affected Kiwis dying from the disease.

Patients and their families "feel as though they are being treated as second-class tumour citizens" when comparing the treatment, access to screening and support available for all other cancer types, Smith said.

New Zealanders with advanced bowel cancer have poorer access to effective drug treatments than if they lived in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or the United States, she said.

"We are certainly pushing for a national screening programme. Most other countries in the OECD have funded national screening programmes, so why not us?"

The Ministry of Health has been running a bowel cancer pilot screening programme at the Waitemata District Health Board for the past 18 months.

The trial has detected cancer in 98 people, a ministry spokesman said.

The pilot is now half way 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," he said.

Southern District Health Board medical oncologist Dr Chris Jackson said the WHO statistics confirmed bowel cancer was a "major health problem in New Zealand".

"We really are at the bottom of the world and this reflects that bowel cancer needs to be a major health priority," he said.

Many doctors and patients hoped the pilot would be rolled out across the rest of the country "as soon as possible," Jackson said.


- More than 1200 Kiwis a year die from bowel cancer.

- The bowel cancer survival rate is 55 per cent in NZ.

- If the disease is found early, 75 per cent of patients could be cured.


- Bleeding from the bottom or seeing blood in the toilet after a bowel motion.

- Change of bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal.

- Persistent or periodic pain in the abdomen.

- A lump or mass in the abdomen.

- Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason.

- Anaemia.