New clinical guidelines for stomach cancer testing aim to improve outcomes for Māori

An Otago University team has developed new clinical guidelines for testing stomach cancer in New Zealand - especially in Māori. 

Māori have a higher risk of developing the disease, due to a cancer-causing gene passed down through some whakapapa. In fact, Māori are five times more likely to develop stomach cancer compared to non-Māori. 

Director of Otago University's centre for translational cancer research, professor Parry Guilford, says Māori often don't know about the increased risk. 

"They have about a 70 percent chance of developing advanced stomach cancer in their lifetime."

It's more than 20 years since Guilford's team discovered the genetic mutation responsible for an aggressive form of stomach cancer, which killed 25 members of the McLeod whanau in the Bay of Plenty.

That's the whakapapa of singer Stan Walker. 

Walker chose to have his stomach removed, after being diagnosed with early stage cancer caused by the mutant gene.

Te Tumu lecturer Karyn Paringatai faced a similar dilemma, she had surgery after learning the stomach cancer is often undetectable until it's terminal.

"Once that sunk in, I decided it's a no-brainer really and I have to go through with surgery."

The Otago team collaborated with international experts to develop new clinical guidelines, opening the previously-restricted genetic test up to more at-risk people.

The guidelines mean that just the presentation of one case within the whanau means that the recommendation is to have that person tested.

"We're going to be able to find new families we haven't seen before… so new people who are at risk," said Professor Guilford, "and that way we should be able to get the instances of stomach cancer down in the Māori population."