Bowel cancer – can we stop it?

Talking about your bowels and motions (poo) can be embarrassing. But it can also save your life.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. With over eight patients diagnosed per day, it is the second most common cancer diagnosed in NZ, and the second most common cause of cancer death. Unfortunately, by the time it is diagnosed, over a quarter of cases are metastatic (cancer cells have spread throughout the body).

It is increasingly being diagnosed in younger people. In fact, over 30% of cases are diagnosed in people less than 60 years old.

So how can we change this?

If you notice persistent:

• Changes in what is your normal toileting habits: frequency or consistency of your bowel motions

• Abdominal (stomach) pains

• Cramping or bloating

• Blood when you pass stools

These need to be investigated and checked out.

The additional difficulty with bowel cancer is that it may have none of these symptoms to start with. In even up to half of all cases diagnosed, people will not notice any of these issues. This is where screening can be useful – a test taken when you have no symptoms at all to check for blood in the stool that you can’t see with the eye. In New Zealand, this is offered at age 60. However, I believe and support Bowel Cancer NZ’s view that this should be offered a lot younger, as it is in many countries including Australia and USA where it starts at age 45.  

This is because bowel cancer is a very preventable disease. Polyps (small warty outgrowths which are precursors to colon cancer) can be seen and removed during a colonoscopy. In this way, a single colonoscopy can reduce your future chance of developing bowel cancer by over 90%. A colonoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves placing a thin tube with a light and camera into the bowel where any issues can be identified.

At Waitemata Endoscopy, taking this proactive approach is easy. We accept GP, specialist, and self-referrals via our website. Come to talk to us or your GP to learn more.

We can offer appointments within 7 working days by matching you with the availability of our experienced specialists.

Dr Cameron Schauer, Gastroenterologist & Endoscopist, MBChB 2013, FRACP 2020

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