Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is a malignant growth that develops inside the bowel. It is also called colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand, but it can be treated successfully if it is detected and treated early.

You are more at risk of developing bowel cancer if:

  • you have a history of a number of family members over two or three generations being affected with bowel cancer
  • you or a close family member have been diagnosed with bowel cancer at a young age (under 55 years)
  • there is a known genetic bowel cancer syndrome in your family, or a concern that you might have one
  • you have had extensive inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years.

New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. In 2011, 3030 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer and 1191 died from the disease.

Signs and symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer may include:

  • a change in your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks (such as diarrhoea, constipation, or feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • blood in your bowel motion.

Although these symptoms are often caused by other conditions, it is important to get them checked by your doctor.

People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and receive treatment when it is at an early stage, have a 90 percent chance of long term survival. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and the cancer may become more advanced, it is harder to cure. 

Related websites

Time to Screen: Bowel screening
Information on the National Bowel Screening Programme being rolled out across New Zealand.

Cancer Society
The country’s largest source of information about cancer and its effects. This website provides information on types of cancer, diagnosis, methods of treatment and advice on living with cancer.

Beat Bowel Cancer New Zealand
A patient-led organisation committed to reducing the impact of bowel cancer through awareness, education and support. This website provides information on symptoms, tests and treatment for bowel cancer.

NZ Familial Gastrointestinal Cancer Registry
The New Zealand Familial Gastrointestinal Registry is a new service that offers assessment, diagnosis and surveillance of inherited gastrointestinal cancer syndromes.

Health Navigator – Bowel cancer
The Health Navigator NZ website helps you find reliable and trustworthy health information.

Better Health Channel – Bowel cancer
The Better Health Channel was established by the Victorian (Australia) State Government. It provides a wide range of health and medical information on conditions including cancer.

Find out more from the Ministry

The National Bowel Cancer Working Group provides advice to the Ministry cancer services and bowel screening teams on bowel cancer diagnosis and treatment and the National Bowel Screening Programme.

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