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One-off screening could slash NZ bowel cancer rates: Otago expert

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Thursday 23 January 2014 2:48pm

Introducing a highly effective one-off bowel cancer screening test could reduce rates of the deadly disease and alleviate the current over-supply of nursing graduates in New Zealand, according to a University of Otago researcher.

Associate Professor Brian CoxAssociate Professor Brian Cox

Associate Professor Brian Cox says a flexible sigmoidoscopy involves looking at the last third of the large bowel and this single test between age 55 and 64 years of age has repeatedly been shown to reduce the risk of dying of bowel cancer by 40%.

“In the United Kingdom, and many places elsewhere, nurses or medical technicians receive about 8 weeks training to conduct this highly effective screening test. Yesterday's reported shortage of jobs for nurses, with 500 graduates apparently struggling to find work, provides an ideal opportunity for such screening to be implemented in New Zealand,” says Associate Professor Cox.

A single screening test in a lifetime is preferred by many people, over 2-yearly testing of faeces from age 50 to 74 years of age, he says.

“In addition, the prevention of bowel cancer by the removal at flexible sigmoidoscopy of those bowel polyps that have been shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer would significantly reduce our incidence of bowel cancer. Also, the resulting decrease in the operations and treatment needed for this disease would provide cost savings to help fund the screening programme.”

New Zealand’s incidence rate of bowel cancer is nearly the highest in the world, he notes.

“The current pilot study of the Ministry of Health does not test the most effective bowel screening method and is not expected to have much effect on bowel cancer incidence in New Zealand. The reticence of the government to institute national one-off flexible sigmoidoscopy screening continues to be a major handicap to the prevention of bowel cancer and a reduction in bowel cancer mortality in New Zealand.”

For further information, contact

Associate Professor Brian Cox
Director, Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7213

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