21 Jun 2015

NZ v Australia on bowel cancer care explored

5:59 pm on 21 June 2015

Doctors want to know how New Zealand's bowel cancer care stacks up against Australia's, as oncologists keep up their pressure on the Government to fund a national screening scheme.

The disease kills about 1200 people every year in New Zealand.

A pilot colonoscopy programme has been extended at Waitemata District Health Board, but there was broad agreement among specialists that the screening should be taken nationwide.

A medical oncologist at the University of Otago, Chris Jackson, said research would answer a crucial question:

"We've just completed a three year Ministry of Health and HRC-funded project [Health Research Council] looking at bowel cancer outcomes in New Zealand. And what we'd like to do next is compare those outcomes to Australia," he said.

"We know that New Zealand bowel cancer outcomes are not as good as Australia and the UK and we really need to know why. So our study gives us an opportunity to compare what happens in New Zealand to what happens overseas, to finally answer the question 'why are we doing so badly?'".

Dr Chris Jackson

Dr Chris Jackson Photo: RNZ / Gareth Thomas

Dr Jackson said research might also be able to find there are different colorectal cancer symptoms depending on where people live:

"New Zealanders probably aren't aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer. So that may mean that they present at a later time than their international counterparts. And even if we raise more awareness about the symptoms and signs of bowel cancer, hopefully that leads to people getting checked out and that might make difference to bowel cancer death rates too".

Despite being a fervent supporter of a national bowel screening programme Chris Jackson was pragmatic when it came to funding but hoped new research would support the calls for bowel cancer screening throughout New Zealand.

"I do think the Ministry of Health has a very tough job. There are so many projects which are worthy of funding and understanding where the priorities are is very difficult.

"I'd like to think that our study could potentially give the ministry and the minister [of health] an idea of what the priorities are for where they can invest in order to actually get some really meaningful gains".

If he wins funding for the study Dr Jackson said the research would be analytical - meaning it did not need people to be recruited - and would take up to two years to complete.

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