Health system failing young bowel cancer patients

Community ambassador Chelsea Halliwell. Photo: Supplied.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand is launching their Never Too Young campaign for the fourth year, increasingly concerned by the number of young people misdiagnosed or on long wait lists to access diagnostic bowel screening.

Bowel cancer survivor Chelsea Halliwell, the organiser of the campaign and a Bowel Cancer NZ ambassador, says young New Zealanders are still slipping through the cracks of a severely underfunded health system.

“I am absolutely devastated that we are still hearing of young people like Jo McKenzie-McLean, 43 and Hope Benns, 42, who, despite seeking help for their bowel cancer symptoms, were turned down for diagnostic bowel screening because they were considered too young,” says Chelsea.

“Bowel cancer is increasingly prevalent in younger people,” says Bowel Cancer NZ medical advisor Professor Frank Frizelle. “In New Zealand, research has shown that among patients aged under 50 years, the incidence of distal colonic cancer in men increased by 14 per cent per decade, while the incidence of rectal cancer in men increased by 18 per cent and that in women by 13 per cent."

Bowel Cancer NZ medical advisor Professor Frank Frizelle. Photo: Supplied.

“Within the next decade, it is estimated that one in ten colon cancers and one in four rectal cancers will be diagnosed in adults younger than 50 years," says Frank. "As a result, health professionals should consider when seeing individual patients, the need to do further tests, no matter the age of the patients, should they present with rectal bleeding, change of bowel habit and stool consistency.”

Every year, more than 350 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer. This year the Never Too Young campaign will highlight the patients and families behind these numbers through a viral social media campaign.

“We need people to understand that bowel cancer can strike at any age and that sometimes you need to advocate for yourself because, in many places, our health system isn’t up to it. So, if you have symptoms, get to your GP immediately, and make sure you get some answers,” says Chelsea.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand general manager Rebekah Heal agrees.

“The Never Too Young campaign drives home how important it is for everyone of any age to know the symptoms of bowel cancer. These include bleeding from the bottom; a change of bowel habit; any lumps in the stomach; fatigue or tiredness; anaemia and unexplained weight loss.”

The campaign runs entirely with pro bono support and features ten brave young people who all have had bowel cancer. Sadly, four have passed away since the campaign first ran.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand encourages avoiding ‘sitting on your symptoms’ through open discussion with medical professionals who have seen it all before and seeking a second opinion if still concerned.

Bowel Cancer NZ encourages open discussion about bowel cancer with medical professionals and avoiding ‘sitting on your symptoms’. These include bleeding from the bottom or seeing blood in the toilet after a bowel motion; change of bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal; persistent or periodic severe pain in the abdomen; a lump or mass in the abdomen; tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason; and anaemia.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand (NZ) is a patient-focused charity organisation. The registered charity was founded in 2010 by a group of people affected by bowel cancer, committed to improving bowel cancer awareness and outcomes for people with the disease.

Bowel Cancer NZ aims to provide clear and up-to-date information about the disease, symptoms, what to do if diagnosed and to support patients and families affected by bowel cancer.

The ultimate aim of Bowel Cancer NZ is to prevent lives from being lost to this disease and to promote the national screening program rollout in New Zealand.

Those who have a family history of bowel cancer or want to do regular checks can talk to their GP or buy a commercially available bowel screening kit from our website. However, if you have symptoms, we advise seeing your GP immediately. More information on bowel cancer and Bowel Cancer NZ can be found at


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1 Comment

continued treatment

Posted on 31-07-2021 17:35 | By hapukafin

not much use scanning for bowel cancer in young or old if there not a continued treatment for it.I have had colon cancer and op.the cancer has become a secondary terminal cancer.Ive been on chemo but the drugs available is not controlling my tumour any more.Alternative drugs is not available through Pharmac.I am off treatment and disharged from oncology to fend for myself to deteriorate to die.What is the use of diagnosing for colon cancer if there no continued treatment for it.

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