February 3, 2021

Bowel cancer is the second-highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. It kills as many Kiwis as breast and prostate cancer combined, and it can affect anyone at any age. Over 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, of which 1200 will die.

But bowel cancer is treatable – and beatable – if it’s detected early enough.

However, as we dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic here in New Zealand, cancer screening and tested declined. In fact, we saw a drop in screening, pathology and surgery.*

Fear and anxiety around contracting coronavirus also resulted in some Kiwis deferring medical attention for new symptoms or not attending routine follow-up appointments.*

Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t disappear as a result of reduced screening – it just remains undetected. And when cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, it is always more difficult to treat, and survival rates decline.*

While diagnosis numbers have improved as we move out of lockdown*, we still need to be vigilant.

Bowel cancer doesn’t stop in a pandemic which is why we can’t afford for bowel cancer diagnostic screening and treatment to be delayed. Any delays due to Covid-19 could mean more later stage outcomes.

If you have been concerned about getting a routine test during the pandemic, the National Bowel Screening Programme is continuing as normal, with appropriate safeguards in place to keep participants and staff safe. The National Bowel Screening Programme is free for men and women aged 60 to 74 years. It aims to save lives by finding bowel cancer at an early stage when it can often be successfully treated.

If you are experiencing possible symptoms of bowel cancer, such as a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks, or blood in your bowel motion (poo), it is important to seek advice from your family doctor, who will refer you for urgent assessment and treatment.

Getting tested, checked or screened for cancer is the first step in diagnosis and treatment. And delays can mean the difference between outcomes for you and your loved ones.

Bowel cancer is curable if caught early, so we urge you not to delay seeing your GP and to get a second opinion if you are still concerned. Now is the time to speak with your healthcare professional.

Don’t wait. Contact your doctor. Get checked.


* References below:

1. Health.govt.nz/covid-19-and-cancer-services-may2020
2. Beehive.govt.nz/2020-12/Cancer/Control/Agency
3. Aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer-screening/cancer-screening-and-covid-19-in-australia/contents/why-does-it-matter-if-cancer-screening-is-delayed
4. Teaho.govt.nz/static/reports/2020-10-covid-19-and-cancer-report-to-end-oct-2020