Bowel cancer ad campaign aims to save lives

With roughly half of the 835,000 New Zealanders eligible for life-saving at-home bowel screenings tests opting not to use them, a new national ad campaign aims to boost uptake and prevent deaths caused by the country's second deadliest cancer

Patrick Loloma Afeaki, who lost his wife to the disease in 2013, was among those at the launch of the new national multimedia ad campaign at Auckland's North Shore on Wednesday morning.

"She was taken to the hospital and she didn't know until it was too late," he said.

Afeaki contracted it five years later. But unlike his late wife, he caught it early enough to receive four rounds of life-saving chemotherapy.

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"I realised in early 2018 that I had blood in my bowel motions, and I knew that that was a symptom of bowel cancer," he said.

Speaking to the crowd, Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare's said his late father, Erima Henare, was also diagnosed with bowel cancer before he was 60.

"We were only lucky to catch it because of our privilege. Sadly, that is not the case for all whānau, wherever they might be in this country," Henare said.

Bowel cancer kills 1200 New Zealanders every year, and Māori and Pasifika are more likely to die once diagnosed.

Māori Health Authority chief executive Riana Manuel said the figures demonstrate why the at-home tests, and the new ad campaign, are so important.

"The media campaign is going to be a massive advantage here because we need to get these messages out to whānau. Often, we don't even know what's available to us.

"We want our people to live long lives, lives that aren't spent in the whare hōhipera (hospital)."

Anyone aged 60 to 74 can access an at-home test for free, but in the five years since the National Bowel Screening Programme began, just 58% of those eligible have used them.

The new ad campaign targets Māori and Pasifika who currently have the lowest screening rates in the programme.

"There is a whakamā often associated [with] coming into the clinics and this way you can be at home, a place that you trust," said Manuel.

Next year the eligible age will drop to 50 for Māori and Pasifika, who tend to contract bowel cancer earlier than Pākehā.

Henare said it could save your life.

"This is easy to do and it will save your life so you can enjoy your tamariki and mokopuna."