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This March Kiwis Will Give It Up To Raise Funds For New Zealand’s Most Common Form Of Cancer

Gut cancers are the most common form of cancer in New Zealand. The latest figures released by the Ministry of Health[1] show that 5423 Kiwis were diagnosed with a cancer of the digestive system (gut cancer) in 2018. 1 in 5 of all cancer diagnoses in New Zealand is a gut cancer. Sadly, survival rates for this group of cancers are low, often devastatingly so. Just 50% of Kiwis diagnosed with a gut cancer will survive beyond 5 years. Gut cancers include oesophageal, stomach, liver, gallbladder & bile ducts, pancreas, bowel, and anal cancers.

This March, the Gut Cancer Foundation (GCF) is addressing these statistics by asking New Zealand to ‘GIVE IT UP’ for gut cancers. Kiwis around the country are being asked to give up alcohol, sugar or the sofa for the month of March with the aim of fundraising to help researchers find new ways to detect, treat and beat these cancers.

Liam Willis, Executive Officer at GCF says, “There is a real shortage of funds to support research and clinical trials for cancers of the digestive system in New Zealand. The GIVE IT UP campaign is a fantastic opportunity for Kiwis to support our brightest minds by raising much needed money for research, whilst simultaneously engaging in activities that could help reduce their own risk of developing a gut cancer.”

GCF supporters are currently helping a number of New Zealanders access international clinical trials, as well as funding local researchers looking to answer important questions that could improve survival rates, life expectancy and quality of life for Kiwis with a gut cancer.

But the GIVE IT UP campaign is about more than just raising funds for research, as important as that is. Willis says, “Research has shown that obesity and excessive alcohol consumption are two factors which greatly increase the risk of developing a gut cancer. Research also suggests regular exercise could help reduce the chances of developing these diseases. Asking New Zealanders to raise money for research, whilst helping to reduce their own risks makes perfect sense.”

Waikato woman, Karen Pratt, has decided to GIVE IT UP for gut cancer after her life was turned upside down in April 2019. After months of pain, discomfort, hospital visits and tests, solo mum Karen was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophageal junction and stomach. “Nothing can prepare you for news like this” says Karen.

Initially Karen was told that nothing could be done, and palliative care was the only option. Thankfully though, further investigation found that life-saving surgery was a possibility. “I had hope and I held onto that” said Karen. “I truly believed I could get through this. I had a daughter who I was determined to see grow up.”

Fast forward 18 months and after series of gruelling surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Karen’s treatment has finished, but her recovery is ongoing.

To help in this recovery and give something back, Karen has decided to take part in the GIVE IT UP challenge. “I feel very lucky to be here today I realise how important awareness is. If I had been more aware of symptoms and what can contribute to gut cancers, they may have found mine earlier and I don’t want others to go through what I went through”.

“Having also lost my grandmother and aunty to pancreatic cancer. I know just how devastating gut cancers are. Eight people dying of a gut cancer in New Zealand each day should not be happening”

Anyone taking part in the GIVE IT UP challenge will be supported with tips and advice from the team at 4 Wheels of Health, the science based 4-week health education course created by acclaimed Kiwi chef Simon Gault and Metabolic Nutritionist, Sean Robertson.

“Gut health is one of the most fascinating and implicative areas of our health. This is your engine, and with a well-functioning engine comes a well-functioning vehicle”, said Robertson. “Spreading the message of why gut health is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing is part of why we do what we do, and why we are excited to partner with GCF and the GIVE IT UP challenge."

Gault added “Our Rainforest (Microbiome) that resides within our gut determines not only our weight and mood but the outcome of our long-term health & well-being. Scientific evidence strongly points at connections between poor gut health and the development of disease. Every day we live and eat we have another chance to influence the incredible rain forest that’s inside us for better or worse. I've seen incredible changes in those who have taken this as a priority for their health, truly different people. This is why it's so important to get the message out for gut health.” Gault’s advice to anyone wanting to improve their gut health is "GIVE IT UP for Gut Cancer and Take the challenge this March”.

Anyone interested in signing up to GIVE IT UP for gut cancer should visit www.giveitup.nz.

Fact Sheet

  • Gut cancers are collectively the most common form of cancer in New Zealand.
  • 1 in 5 cancer diagnosis in made in New Zealand is a cancer of the digestive system.
  • Although overall 5-year survival rates for gut cancers are around 50%, soe of the individual cancers are significantly lower:
  • At just 8%, Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate among all major cancers.
  • Pancreatic, gall bladder, oesophageal, stomach and liver cancer all have 5-year survival rates under 20%
  • 14 New Zealanders are diagnosed with a gut cancer everyday
  • 8 New Zealanders will die from a gut cancer everyday
  • Gut cancers kill more New Zealanders than breast and prostate cancer combined
  • By 2025, two of New Zealand’s top four cancer killers are projected to be cancers of the digestive system (bowel and pancreatic)
  • Currently, of all the gut cancers only bowel has a limited screening programme and early detection test. Some are in development for the other cancers and the Gut Cancer Foundation is fundraising to help do more critical research and work to help improve early diagnosis and investigate better treatments to improve life expectancy and quality of life for those dealing with all cancers of the digestive system.

The cause of the gut cancers varies between the different organs. However, the most common risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Diet high in animal fat
  • Diet containing high amounts of salted, cured, or poorly preserved foods
  • A diet low in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Increasing age

Common symptoms of gut cancers include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Indigestion
  • Unexplained weight-loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/ vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Changes in stool our bowel movements/ habits
  • Rectal bleeding

It’s important to remember that symptoms can be caused by more common health issues, but if they are out of the ordinary, persistent and especially if you are in a high-risk group, you should always get checked out by a GP.

[1] https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/new-cancer-registrations-2018

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