In a world first, Christchurch researchers have made a major breakthrough in the prevention of bowel cancer.
The disease kills over 1300 people a year - four times the road toll - but the discovery of a toxic bug present in 80 per cent of bowel cancer patients could lead to a lifesaving vaccine.
The research, by the University of Otago, started 15 years ago with a group of 150 patients who had undergone a colonoscopy.
The DNA samples from their bowels were analysed to see if Bacteroides fragilis was present.
Between 12 and 15 years later, 80 per cent of those with the toxic bug had developed a pre-cancerous lesion.
Bowel Cancer surgeon Frank Frizelle says: "This is a game-changer. It gives us a clue as to what is actually driving it and, in doing so, it gives us a possible means in being able to manage it."
Mr Frizelle said with further time and money, the discovery could be used to screen for people with the bug present, and it could be used to develop a lifesaving vaccine.
Christchurch mother-of-two and bowel cancer survivor Chelsea Halliwell is excited to hear about the breakthrough, which could have spared her losing 75 per cent of her bowel.
"Gosh, it would have been amazing to find out this was something I might have been susceptible to well before cancer developed," Ms Halliwell said.
"Imagine that, not having to go through the surgery or the chemotherapy."
Bowel Cancer NZ is interested in following the future progress of the research team.
Professor Sarah Derrett says: "It would be fantastic - anything to stop 1200 New Zealanders dying each and every year would just be wonderful."
"I really look forward to this research progressing and preventing this national calamity."
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.