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A research first for bowel cancer in New Zealand

A Bowel Cancer New Zealand funded study New Zealanders’ experiences and pathways to a diagnosis of bowel cancer: a cross-sectional descriptive study of a younger cohort’ is the first to present bowel cancer patients’ perspectives and experiences of the pathways to diagnosis in New Zealand. The University of Otago study found significant delays were experienced by many participants.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand (BCNZ) spokesperson Professor Sarah Derrett says, “This study indicates inequities in terms of obtaining a timely diagnosis exist in New Zealand. People aged under 60, with no tertiary qualification, having a poor first experience with a healthcare professional, and people diagnosed in public hospitals (compared to private) took longer to obtain a diagnosis.”

The researchers note it seems likely socioeconomic factors are related to delay – where wealthier people are able to pay for investigations such as private colonoscopy (which cost approximately $3000), but this being beyond the reach of many New Zealanders. “BCNZ believes all New Zealanders should have the same chance of a timely diagnosis whatever their income; being diagnosed at an earlier stage increases people’s chance of survival”, says Derrett.

The study also highlights a lack of public knowledge around bowel cancer symptoms and the need for future education initiatives to rectify this. Zoe Windner, a third year medical student who collected the data as a summer student based in Preventive and Social Medicine at the Dunedin School of Medicine says, “The importance of patients knowing to talk to their healthcare providers about bowel cancer symptoms was confirmed, even if symptoms seem intermittent”.

A study, funded by the Health Research Council, is currently underway elsewhere. “Our findings support the need for this research which will consider, with larger patient numbers, delays in obtaining a timely diagnosis,” says Derrett.

BCNZ encourages open discussion about bowel cancer with medical professionals and avoiding ‘sitting on your symptoms’. 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 the abdomen;
• A lump or mass in the abdomen;
• Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason;
• Anaemia.
Those who don’t live in DHB screening areas or have symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer and want to do regular checks can talk to their GP.
More information on bowel cancer and BCNZ can be found at http://www.beatbowelcancer.org.nz

ends

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