NZ bowel cancer rates 'embarrassing'

NZ bowel cancer rates 'embarrassing'

There's a warning for those who love a classic Kiwi fry-up. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), processed meat like bacon and sausages are as big a cancer threat as cigarettes.

The new report could make a big cooked brekkie harder to swallow.

The WHO is expected to list processed and red meat as increasing the risk of bowel cancer and being carcinogenic to humans.

"Ninety percent is what's called sporadic bowel cancer and that's a group where meat consumption is likely to play a role," says colorectal surgeon Dr Frank Frizelle.

The report will lump sausages, ham and bacon in the same cancer-causing category as alcohol, asbestos and even cigarettes. But will the new research mean Kiwis will give up their beloved big brekkie?

New Zealand has the highest rates of bowel cancer and bowel cancer deaths in the developed world. Experts say it's no coincidence we also eat a lot of meat.

"It's really embarrassing for New Zealand," says Bowel Cancer New Zealand chairperson Mary Bradley. "We're used to leading the world, but we are the bottom of the ladder for bowel cancer and awareness is terrible."

Bowel Cancer New Zealand says meat consumption is a small part of a bigger problem.

"We are one of the only OECD countries that doesn't have screening in place. Hundreds of people's lives could be saved if we had screening."

Ms Bradley was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 28. These days she exercises more, drinks less and eats healthily and in moderation.

"I eat some meat but I pretty much eliminate all processed meat from my diet," she says.

But not everyone's convinced, and that "she'll be right" attitude is why Bowel Cancer New Zealand is calling for a national screening programme to be introduced.

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