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Bugs and bowel cancer

New Zealand has the highest rate of bowel cancer in the world, yet we don't know why bowel cancer develops in most cases.

A small number of people have a predisposing condition such as an inherited genetic disorder, but for over 90 per cent of patients the cause of the cancer is unknown.

Professor Frank Frizelle says researchers have historically focused on inherited aspects of bowel cancer. With a number of cancers, including cervical, anal, throat and gastric cancer, bacteria and virus are the cause. Frizelle and his team suspect this may also be the case with bowel cancer and are looking to see if this is the case.

Frizelle is one of the country's foremost bowel cancer surgeons. He heads the Department of Surgery at the University of Otago, Christchurch and is also a dedicated researcher. He was recently awarded a Gold Medal for Research from the University of Otago, Christchurch for his long and productive research career.

Another of Frizelle's current research projects is looking at outcomes of patients with bowel cancer in terms of survival and quality of life. He and his team are studying data on bowel and colon cancer surgical patients from Canterbury and comparing their outcomes with patients in Sydney, Melbourne, Leeds and London.

”We have more cases of cancer here than any of the other sites (in the study) – we see so much bowel cancer. We are really trying to work out what is behind this and how to get the best outcomes for patients.''

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