What you need to know about bowel cancer
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What you need to know about bowel cancer


Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is one of the world’s most common cancers.It affects the lower part of the digestive system: the large intestine and the rectum.

Early detection saves lives

The earlier bowel cancer is treated, the better the prognosis. Average five-year survival rates are as high as 90% IF the cancer is detected before it spreads to other parts of the body.1

Unfortunately, the symptoms are often mistaken for other diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome or peptic ulcers. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world – so it’s vital that we spread the word about bowel cancer and what symptoms to look out for.2

Some of the symptoms which can be apparent in the early stages of bowel cancer are:

  • A consistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Regular abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Weakness or tiredness (fatigue)
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Many of these symptoms may have other causes, so it’s important to see your doctor if you experience any of these signs.

Treatment options for bowel cancer

If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, there are a number of treatments available : surgery, chemotherapy, and biological therapies.

The most suitable treatment for you will depend on many factors, including:

  • The type and size of your tumour
  • Whether the cancer has already spread (metastasised)
  • Your overall health and fitness
  • Your treatment and lifestyle goals

Surgery may be enough to cure early-stage bowel cancer. But once the disease has spread to other parts of your body, some patients may need additional treatment, with a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapies such as Avastin ®(bevacizumab).

How Avastin® works

Avastin works by stopping the development of new blood vessels in the body which the cancer cells need to grow and spread. This starves the tumour of the blood supply it needs to grow.

Studies have shown that when Avastin and chemotherapy are given to patients with advanced bowel cancer, it improves the length of time that a patient’s cancer stops growing or spreading, compared with those who received only chemotherapy.3-6

Other studies have shown that patients treated with Avastin may also live longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone.3,4,6

Avastin is not publicly funded which means you will have to pay for this medicine. Avastin is not suitable for everyone, so you will need to speak to your doctor about whether it is right for you.

How to access Avastin

Although Avastin is not a PHARMAC funded treatment, you can access it through a private oncology centre if it’s recommended by your specialist.

What’s more, our cost share programme makes it an affordable treatment option – providing a number of doses free of charge, spreading the cost over time, and capping the total amount you will pay for Avastin. You can get full details of the programme from your specialist.

Find out if Avastin is right for you. Talk to your specialist today.

Avastin® (bevacizumab), 100 mg/4mL and 400 mg/16 mL vials, is a Prescription Medicine used to treat metastatic (spreading) colorectal, kidney, breast, brain, lung, ovarian and cervical cancers.

Do not use Avastin if: you have had an allergic reaction to Avastin, any of its ingredients or other antibodies, or if you have been coughing or spitting up blood.

Tell your doctor if: you are pregnant or breast-feeding, or plan to become pregnant or breast-feed; you have any other health problems, especially the following: inflammation of the bowel or stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, a history of blood clots or stroke, bleeding problems, bleeding in the lungs or coughing or spitting up blood, low white blood cell counts, you have/ had a fistula, or have a history of diabetes; you have had major surgery in the last 28 days or a wound that has not healed properly; you have had a blocked lung artery (pulmonary embolism); you have heart disease; you have received anthracyclines (e.g. doxorubicin) for cancer, or radiotherapy to your chest; you are 65 years of age or older, or you are taking any other medicines.

Side Effects: Avastin may worsen some chemotherapy side effects when used in combination with chemotherapy agents, including hair loss, nail disorders, pain, redness and/or swelling of your hands and/or soles of your feet, and a feeling of numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.

Tell your doctor immediately or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Centre if you notice any of the following: severe body or stomach pain or cramps; severe headache; severe diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting; loss of control of your bladder or bowels; passage of wind or bowel motions through the vagina; coughing or spitting up blood; pain, redness, swelling and warmth over a vein which may suggest blood clots; pain and/or swelling in the lower legs, feet or hands; severe bleeding or problems with your wounds healing after surgery; seizures; confusion; sleepiness/drowsiness or fainting; abscesses (pus-filled sores); severe infection with high fever, chills, headache, confusion and rapid breathing; feeling of numbness or tingling in feet or hands; dry mouth with thirst and/or darkened urine; increased heart rate; shortness of breath; symptoms of an allergic reaction which may include shortness of breath, wheezing or difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue or other parts of the body, or rash, itching or hives on the skin.

Possible common side-effects may also include: high blood pressure (symptoms include, headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, tiredness, blurred vision); body pain, tiredness/ weakness; diarrhoea, constipation or rectal bleeding; sore mouth or mouth ulcers; loss of appetite, being thirsty; shortness of breath; runny, blocked or bleeding nose; dry, scaling or inflamed skin, change in skin colour; taste changes; blurred vision or other eye problems; dizziness; headache; frequent infections with symptoms such as fever, chills or sore throat; changes in your voice or difficulty speaking; loss of body weight; abdominal, pelvic, rectal or back pain.

Avastin has risks and benefits. Ask your oncologist if Avastin is right for you. Use strictly as directed. If symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your healthcare professional. For further information on Avastin, please talk to your health professional or visit www.medsafe.govt.nz for Avastin Consumer Medicine Information.

Avastin is not funded by PHARMAC. You will need to pay the full cost of this medicine. A prescription charge and normal oncologist fees may apply.

Consumer panel dated 16/03/2016 based on CMI dated 10/03/2016.

Roche Products (New Zealand) Limited, Auckland. Phone: 0800 656 464. www.roche.co.nz.

All trademarks mentioned herein are protected by law.


1. Altekruse SF et al. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2007, National Cancer Institute. http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2007/

2. J. Gandhi et al, Population-based study demonstrating an increase in colorectal cancer in young patients, Department of Surgery, Christchurch Hospital and University of Otago, 2017 BJS Society Ltd Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

3. Hurwitz H, et al. N Engl J Med 2004;350:2335-2342 (OS & PFS)

4. Giantonio BJ, et al. J Clin Oncol 2007;29:1539-1544 (OS & PFS)

5. Saltz LB, et al. J Clin Oncol 2008;26:2013-2019

6. Bennouna J, et al. Lancet Oncol 2013;14:29-37