Lives being saved by bowel screening

Twenty people have had cancers confirmed and many others have had pre-cancerous lesions removed since the National Bowel Screening Programme started in Canterbury.


Kits started being delivered in volume in December last year, and by the end of March 16,705 kits had been sent to people aged 60 – 74 who had recent birthdays. The programme had its official launch this morning in the foyer of the new Waipapa building.


The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is easy and simple to do in the privacy of your own home. It can detect tiny traces of blood present in a small sample of faeces (your bowel motion, or poo), which may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your bowel. Only a tiny amount is needed, about the size of a pinhead.


Lead clinician for the programme, Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Teresa Chalmers-Watson says people who have blood in their poo sample (a positive test) are contacted to have a colonoscopy.


“Through screening, we’re detecting people who had no symptoms. So the programme is already saving lives,” Dr Chalmers-Watson says.


Bowel screening can find bowel cancer and also detect polyps (growths). These are not cancer, but they may develop into a cancer over a number of years. Most polyps can be easily removed, reducing the risk that bowel cancer will develop.


Programme Champion and the face of the campaign Dame Aroha Reriti-Crofts says Māori have high incidences of bowel cancer and it’s hugely important they use the test kit.


“Awareness of bowel cancer, that has to be an urgent message for our people. You get a kit in the mail. Follow the instructions, swipe your tūtae with the test stick and seal it up, click it shut, in the pack, in the mail, in the post box on the day you do your test.


“Tāne mā, wāhine mā, pōua mā, tāua mā:  Haere koutou ki te tākuta, ki te bowel screening rā nei!”

Canterbury DHB’s Programme Manager Rachael Haldane says at this early stage about 58% of all test kits are being used and sent back.


“Although we are happy with the return rate – we’re looking at what we can do to continually improve that.  It would be very helpful if their family members encouraged their 60 – 74 year olds to do the test, fill in the forms, and send them back as fast as possible,” Rachael says.


People aged 60-74 who are eligible for free public healthcare in NZ are being invited to take the test on or near their birthdate:

  • People who have an even number birthdate (the day of the month i.e. 2, 4 , 16,26) will receive an invitation in year 1 (between November 2020 and November 2021)
  • People who have an odd number birthdate (the day of the month i.e. 3, 7, 17, 29) will receive an invitation in year 2 (between November 2021 and November 2022) and this pattern will continue.


Two weeks later a test kit will arrive in the mail, including a consent form and label with unique details. This label needs to be fixed to the test, along with the date the test was carried out, before it is posted back (FREEPOST).


Because there is a danger tests will be spoiled if they don’t arrive back promptly, people are being urged to do the test at the beginning of the week and return it immediately via post (from Monday to Wednesday is best).


People with a positive result will usually be contacted by their GP or the hospital. They will then be invited to the hospital for a colonoscopy.


Those participants with a negative FIT result will be notified by letter and recalled for repeat screening every two years.


Everyone eligible for free public healthcare in New Zealand aged 60 – 74 is encouraged to ensure their details are up to date with their GP.