Killer cancer 'the poor cousin'

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2013

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New Zealand's most diagnosed cancer is being "swept under the carpet" when it comes to funding despite killing four times more people each year than road accidents, advocates say.

Nearly 3000 Kiwis are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year - and about 1200 die from it.

More people die of bowel cancer than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, yet this year's Budget has given it the cold shoulder, Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA) says.

"Bowel cancer is the poor cousin, overlooked, underestimated and generally swept under the carpet in relation to other cancers," BBCA chairwoman Rachel Holdaway said.

"This is a dangerous move - New Zealand has one of the highest death rates from bowel cancer in the developed world and failing to instigate processes to detect the cancer will only mean more and more lives will be lost."

The Budget allocated funds to breast cancer and prostate cancer "while bowel cancer continues to fight for any funding to stage a national awareness campaign", she said.

Dunedin medical oncologist Dr Christopher Jackson said bowel cancer was the second most common cancer killer in New Zealand, just below lung cancer, yet its awareness was "very low".

"Many people think prostate and breast cancer are the big ones; bowel cancer is way down the list on people's awareness."

If bowel cancer was diagnosed in its early stages, the chances of survival were between 70 and 90 per cent, he said.

The best chance of picking up bowel cancer was through screening.

The Government kick-started a four-year bowel screening pilot in the Waitemata District Health Board area last year. So far, almost 30,000 people have participated in the pilot and 60 have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

BBCA is calling for a national screening programme to be implemented. This week marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Week.

THE FACTS

About 3000 Kiwis are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. It kills 1200 New Zealanders a year. It is most common in those over the age of 65. Bowel cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable if caught early. Symptoms include rectal bleeding, a change in bowel motions, lumps in the abdomen and weight loss. 

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