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Bowel cancer atlas – brings greater transparency

Bowel cancer atlas – brings greater transparency to bowel cancer and services in New Zealand

Bowel Cancer New Zealand (BCNZ), the nationwide charity for bowel cancer patients and whānau, has been calling for increased transparency since 2010 and warmly welcomes today’s release of the Bowel Cancer Atlas of Healthcare Variation.

BCNZ has long been aware from patients and their families that variations exist in access to healthcare and outcomes.

“The Atlas makes many of these differences visible and allows our communities and health providers to consider the reasons for variations – and most importantly to begin to address unnecessary differences” says Sarah Derrett, Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokesperson.

“In a country the size of New Zealand, our ethnicity and the places where we live, should not result in different access to diagnosis, treatment or survival” says Derrett.

Of immediate concern to BCNZ are the higher proportions of Māori (28%) and Pacific people (25%) with more advanced bowel cancer at the time of diagnosis (compared to 21% overall), and also the much higher proportions of Māori (39%) and Pacific people (41%) being diagnosed via ED clinics (compared to 27% overall).

“Late diagnosis and where cancer has spread from the bowel to other parts of the body means that survival rates are worse” says Derrett.

The recent announcement of a national bowel cancer screening programme roll-out may begin to address some of the regional variations; although BCNZ is most concerned that the entry age for screening was announced by the Minister to be 60 years of age and over.

“The Waitemata DHB region has been holding the only pilot screening programme since 2012, and there people from the age of 50 upwards were screened” says Derrett.

“Increasing the starting age to 60 years is not likely to address the disadvantage we are seeing in diagnosis for Māori and Pacific people – the very groups who are clearly experiencing difficulties in being diagnosed outside the acute ED setting.

Other indicators in the Atlas include variations in incidence and also in survival following treatment of bowel cancer.

New Zealand leads the world in terms of bowel cancer deaths. Each year 1200 lives are lost due to bowel cancer in New Zealand. It is our most common cancer with over 3000 diagnoses a year, killing as many people as breast and prostate cancers combined – and four times our national road toll.

BCNZ calls on all New Zealanders, and especially bowel cancer patients and their families, to look at the Atlas, to ask questions about the variations and to help identify possible solutions.

BCNZ calls on the government to address these unnecessary variations with urgency. Together we improve the outcomes for New Zealanders affected by bowel cancer and turn to New Zealand from having ‘world-worst’ bowel cancer statistics to being among the best.

If you have symptoms of bowel cancer please consult your GP. Symptoms include:

• Bleeding from the bottom or seeing blood in the toilet after a bowel motion;

• Change of bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal;

• Persistent or periodic severe pain in the abdomen;

• A lump or mass in the abdomen;

• Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason;

• Anaemia.

More information on bowel cancer and BCNZ can be found at

Link to the Bowel Cancer Atlas of Healthcare Variation:


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