Symptoms & statistics

New Zealand has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer in the world. Each year about 3,000 people are diagnosed with the disease and more than 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 over several weeks that come and go
  • Anaemia
  • Persistent or periodic severe 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.

John nearly found out the hard way…

“Lucky I checked with my doctor. I had no obvious symptoms but had my regular screening and found the cancer early enough to stop it.”

– John

Statistics of bowel cancer rates in New Zealand

Bowel cancer can affect people of all ages but is more common in the 50+ age group. 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.

  • 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 300 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. 

Remember – While bowel cancer is more common in the 50 years + age group, bowel cancer affects people of all ages.

If you have symptoms of concern, do not accept ‘you’re too young to have bowel cancer’ as an explanation for your symptoms – ask your GP to be referred for further investigations.

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

Start the process
There are two ways to start the process of getting checked for Bowel Cancer:

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.