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Tackling bowel cancer from symptoms to surgery

Friday, 22 July 2011

Identifying bugs potentially causing bowel cancer and the best way to detect the disease earlier are two of many studies currently underway at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

Colorectal surgeon Professor Frank Frizelle and his team have studied New Zealand’s most diagnosed cancer, from symptoms to surgery, for more than two decades.

“We are looking at how to find it earlier, what people are most at risk, how to best manage it and how to support people once they’ve had it,” he says.

Finding the best screening tool

A desperately-needed nationwide screening programme could begin within a few years, Professor Frizelle says. A pilot programme in North Auckland uses the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), which detects very small amounts of blood in the bowel otherwise invisible to the naked eye, to determine which patients need a cancer-diagnosing colonoscopy. Professor Frizelle says the FOBT is 60% accurate. His team is studying another test, called the M2-PK, they believe could be more accurate in a sample of Canterbury patients who are being screened using both tests.

Cancer causing bugs?

Professor Frizelle says research shows less than 10% of bowel cancer cases are caused by inherited genetic causes. His research team has identified, and are studying, a bacteria that may make a person more likely to develop the cancer. The bug could be acquired as a child possibly from ones mother and could possibly be vaccinated against, he says.

Bowel Cancer’s Sad Statistics
New Zealand’s most diagnosed cancer
1200 Kiwis die from it every year
3000 diagnosed annually
NZ has highest death rate in developed world
Kiwi women highest rate in OECD