NZ tops bowel cancer rates; do you know the symptoms?


stomachThe World Health Organisation (WHO) has named and shamed New Zealand and Australia with the release of a report that shows the two countries have the highest estimated bowel cancer rates in the world.

Bowel Cancer – The facts and figures

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA) CEO Megan Smith says, ‘This report is a timely reminder, following our recent Cottonsoft ‘I Give A Crap’ campaign, that New Zealand still has a long way to go to conquer our high rate of death from a disease that is the second most deadly cancer in this country. It affects and kills men and women in equal measure.
‘The survival rate of New Zealanders with bowel cancer is just 55%. That is tragically low when you consider 75% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.’

The WHO confirms that globally, bowel (or colorectal) cancer is the third most common cancer in men (746,000 cases, 10.0% of total cancer occurrence) and the second most common among women (614,000 cases, 9.2% of the total). Almost 55% of the cases occur in more developed regions, and at the top of the table sit Australia and New Zealand.

How can we change these numbers?

Mrs Smith says, ‘In order to turn the statistics around and bring New Zealand to the bottom of the table of bowel cancer incidence and death rates, we need New Zealanders to become familiar with the symptoms of bowel cancer, and unembarrassed about seeking medical attention when any or all of these symptoms present.
‘BBCA encourages open discussion about bowel cancer with loved ones and medical professionals, and that is why we launched the ‘I Give A Crap’ campaign over Christmas. Too many people are dying because they are too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms.’

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • 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 severe pain in the abdomen
  • A lump or mass in the abdomen
  • Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason
  • Anaemia

Those who don’t have symptoms or a family history but want to do regular checks can talk to their GP or buy a commercially available bowel screening kit (which involves the family doctor) at Pharmacybrands pharmacies or through www.beatbowelcancer.org.nz.

Mrs Smith says, ‘BBCA also needs support at a government level, through a national screening programme. A programme that is available to all Kiwis, like those in place for breast and cervical screening, would have the potential to prevent one in three people with bowel cancer from dying from the disease.’

Though bowel cancer kills as many New Zealanders each year as breast and prostate cancer combined, it does not have a publicly funded national screening programme. The current government has funded a pilot screening programme, which began in November 2011 and is running in the Waitemata DHB area, but there are no formal plans to screen nationwide.

More information on bowel cancer, BBCA and the ‘I Give A Crap’ awareness campaign can be found at www.beatbowelcancer.org.nz.

Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Ambro

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