DNA abnormalities leading to the aggressive spread of bowel cancer have been identified by Otago University researchers.
The researchers studied 20 tumours from patients with bowel cancer, Aotearoa's second highest cause of cancer deaths.
The study, published in the journal iScience, found changes to the patient's DNA that were not present in primary tumours or a normal colon.
Member of the research team, Associate Professor Aniruddha Chatterjee told Morning Report the findings were "exciting" and if implicated in a larger study, could eventually help with the treatment and management of patients.
Chatterjee said the team identified abnormal epigenetic code that was associated with the metastasis of bowel cancer.
They identified regions that were different and possibly responsible for the aggressiveness of the cancer - although this needed to be further studied.
"If this could be implicated in a much larger study with the general population, then going forward there is potential to identify metastasis early, also identify presence of tumour early, and if that can happen, then that can help in the treatment and the management of the patients in a better way."
Chatterjee said these findings added a "tool" going forward that could help manage cancer in patients.
It was also significant for Aotearoa where 1200 people die from bowel cancer every year, he said.
"Patients with distant metastases, such as liver metastasis as we have studied in this work, unfortunately have very low five-year survival rates.
"Alarmingly, the incidence of colorectal (bowel) cancer is increasing in people under 50 years old and in Māori and Pasifika populations at a faster rate. Māori and Pasifika are also more likely to present directly to emergency departments with advanced colorectal tumours," he said.
The findings were "very exciting" and the research team was feeling motivated to continue with the study.
"I should also add that we are conducting studies in other cancer types, such as prostate and lung cancer and trying to identify and understanding the epigenetic code and abnormalities in those cancers as well.
"This is very exciting and very emerging area, this area of epigenetics, and our aim is to continue to work towards it for patient benefit in future."