Gut Cancer NZ launches campaign to improve survival rates

Singer Stan Walker's recent surgery to remove his stomach has brought the issue of gut cancers home to Kiwis.

They're the most common and deadly form of cancer in New Zealand, and rates are rising.

Now campaigners are calling for better funding for research to improve survival rates.

Seeing Stan Walker's battle in his recent documentary Stan shone a stark light on the reality of gut cancers. Campaigners now hope it will help raise awareness.

"People don't want to know about gastro-intestinal cancers - it's a bit yukky, particularly bowel cancer - but we need to have those important conversations if we want to save lives," says Gut Cancer Foundation executive officer, Ruth Davy.

"Stan was extremely fortunate to have his caught early."

Gut cancers include stomach, liver, bowel, pancreas and oesophagus. Around 5250 people are diagnosed each year - half of which will die within five years.

Experts are concerned by an extraordinary rise in bowel cancer for people under 50 - the rate is increasing by 14 percent per year.

They're blaming poor diet and a lack of exercise, and say people need to be aware of their risk factors.

Ms Davy hopes that educating New Zealanders about gut cancer will help to lower the high rate of terminal cases diagnosed in our country each day.

Dr Rachel Purcell of the University of Otago is researching the different subtypes of bowel cancers in the hope of improving treatments.

"If we can actually classify people's colorectal cancers into different subtypes then we might be able to give the patients more personalised medicine that hopefully would have better outcomes for everybody," she said.

But for that to happen, Dr Purcell says more funding for research is needed.

"We've got to understand the disease more at genetic level and the molecular level - what's actually going on within the tumours."

The #LoveYerGuts awareness campaign will run from April to May. 

The campaign will ask for public sponsorship for crunches or sit-ups, with funds to support clinical trials and research into the causes of gut cancer, which in turn will help improve survival rates.