Bowel cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with nearly 700,000 people dying of the disease every year. Early detection of this disease is vital for a good prognosis, as screening programs implemented in several countries (eg, Sweden, Australia, Finland) confirm.
Unfortunately, New Zealand falls alarmingly behind in bowel cancer diagnosis rates, and death rate statistics are also worryingly high. University of Auckland oncology Professor Michael Findlay, principle investigator of the Presentation, Investigation, Pathways, Evaluation and Treatment (Piper) project reported that the incidence of bowel cancer in New Zealand was one of the highest in the world, and survival rates were well behind Australia.
Although a four year pilot project for Bowel Cancer Screening was implemented within the Waitemata District Health Board in 2011 for all residents aged between 50 and 74, roll-out of this program to the rest of New Zealand is yet to happen. Instead, the government has extended the pilot project for another two years, perhaps to the detriment of all other New Zealanders living outside the catchment area.
Not only are New Zealanders more likely to present with a late stage of the disease, Professor Findlay’s research also reported much lower chemotherapy uptake rates for those with Stage 3 or 4 disease compared with Australia. Admittedly, current chemotherapy options are not ideal, and several studies are underway to find more effective, but less toxic, alternatives.
Recently, the focus of new cancer treatments has shifted from killing cancer cells to boosting the immune system, and early results look promising from an unlikely source, cinnamon.
Cinnamon contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde (CA). CA is already used world-wide as a food additive to give foods that warm cinnamon flavour and smell. Previous research has shown that CA stimulates a specific protein that controls the release of natural antioxidants within the inner lining of the bowel, relieving oxidative stress and inflammation.
Researchers from the University of Arizona have taken this finding one step further. Using an animal model, they were able to show that CA effectively suppressed progression of colon tumours and reduced inflammatory markers of bowel cancer. So significant were their results, that the authors deemed human trials entirely feasible. The reality of a relatively cheap, less toxic cancer treatment may be just a spice rack away!
Click here to read the research paper on Cinnamon and bowel cancer.