Symptoms & statistics

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. More than 3,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and over 1,200 will die from the disease.

Bowel cancer symptoms

Being aware of the symptoms is the first step you can take to prevent bowel cancer. Symptoms may come and go so don’t wait if you have any of these concerns, no matter what age you are.

Symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom (rectal bleeding)
  • Change of bowel motions/habits that come and go over several weeks
  • Anaemia
  • Severe persistent or periodic abdominal pain
  • A lump or mass in the abdomen
  • Tiredness and loss of weight for no obvious reason

If you have any of these symptoms, or you are concerned about your bowel health, see your GP right away.

Jonny urges you not to sit on your symptoms

“Go see a doctor, get it checked out. Catching bowel cancer early is really important and often means it’s treatable/manageable.”


Bowel Cancer symptoms and statistics

Statistics of bowel cancer rates in New Zealand

  • Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand, second only to lung cancer
  • The incidence of bowel cancer in New Zealand is one of the highest in the world
  • Over 3,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year
  • More than 1,200 die from bowel cancer each year
  • Over 350 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year
  • It is estimated that one in every 18 New Zealanders will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime
  • Men are at increased risk of bowel cancer than women. The most recent NZ data shows men 44.8 per 100,000 with females 35.2 per 100,000


Important – While bowel cancer is more common in the 50 years + age group, it affects people of all ages. If you did see your GP about bowel symptoms and were told, ‘You are too young to have bowel cancer’, do not accept this as an explanation. Seek a second opinion from another doctor, or ask your GP to refer you to a specialist for further investigation..

Remember – if you are still concerned, get a second opinion from another doctor.


Get checked for bowel cancer

There are three ways to begin the process of checking for bowel cancer:

  • The National Bowel Screening Programme is available for eligible men and women aged 60 to 74. Find out more here or visit the Time to Screen page.
  • See your GP 
  • Self-screen if you are not eligible for the National Programme. Find out how to order a Bowel Screen Aotearoa Test Kit here.
lower digestive system diagram