National | Cancer

Gut cancer is among the biggest killers of Māori - so what are we doing about it?

The C3 Construction Company are helping to raise money for the Gut Cancer Foundation's Give it Up campaign. Photo / Supplied

Māori are three times more likely than non-Maori to develop stomach cancer and die from the disease.

And because of health and environmental inequities, by the time Māori are diagnosed, it is often too little, too late.

“Whilst rates of stomach cancer are reducing globally, the same is not true for Māori and Pasifika,” Gut Cancer Foundation chief executive Liam Willis said.

“There are definite inequities for Māori and not often discussed.”

Every day, 17 Kiwis are diagnosed with a gut cancer - one of the five cancers that include stomach, liver, pancreatic, bowel, oesophagus and gallbladder.

That’s more than 6000 Kiwis every year, making gut cancers the most common type of killer cancer in Aotearoa.

Give it Up drive

This month, the Gut Cancer Foundation hopes to raise $350,000 through its Give it Up drive where people can get more mobile and exercise, give up alcohol for the month or sugar. They can participate or donate to the campaign.

Kirk Bakker and his construction company C3 Construction - whose company vision is: "Do the right thing, Take care of people. Enjoy the challenge" is supporting this initiative.

While Bakker is Ngāti Pakeha, his business partner Tamati Parker is Māori and also Bakker’s dad died from stomach cancer.

“Dad was an active guy as an electrician but a few years back at Christmas, he said he didn’t feel so well and we thought it might have been too much good Christmas enjoyment,” Bakker said.

“He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died five months later. It happened that quickly.”

After meeting Willis, Bakker put out an email to his 40 staff to help support the Give it Up cause and went dollar for dollar and donated $20,000 to the campaign.

Higher risks for Māori

Willis says gut cancer is often considered the younger sibling and not often talked about among cancer care and funding.

“For every nine people that die from breast cancer, 27 people survive, which is fantastic because a lot of money has gone into research and the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90 per cent and that’s amazing and shows the progress that’s been made with treatments, screenings and awareness,” he said.

“But take pancreatic cancer, which comes under the gut cancer scope. For every nine people diagnosed, one person survives.

“This is by no means to take away from the other cancer groups but the survival rates have a big impact on the voice of these cancers and it is important that we take that lead role.

“If you look specifically at Māori, there are definitive inequities when you drill down into these cancers. With pancreatic cancer, incidence rates are twice as high for Māori than non-Māori and stomach cancer is another with major inequities.

“Stomach cancer, liver cancer and pancreatic cancers have common threads like poverty, poor housing and poor access to healthcare.

“The inequities that Māori face places them at higher risks when you take those environmental factors into account.”

To join the campaign or to donate, go to