Bay of Plenty prepares to launch National Bowel Screening Programme
02 May 2022
The National Bowel Screening Programme is rolling out across the Bay of Plenty region from May, aiming to save lives through the early detection of bowel cancer.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and bowel cancer is the second-highest cause of cancer death across the country. Each year over 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer and more than 1200 people die from it. But if found early, it can often be treated successfully.
In Bay of Plenty, there are more than 50,000 men and women aged 60-74 who will be eligible for the free programme. A test kit will be sent in the mail every two years to those eligible. Kits arrive close to a recipient’s birthday, with the roll out staged so test kits are sent to people with an even-numbered birthday during the programme’s first year and to those with an odd-numbered birthday in the second year.
The programme is expected to be a lifesaver in the Bay of Plenty. Latest figures show that more than 60 bowel cancers were diagnosed in just one year in people in the region, who were within the age range of the National Bowel Screening Programme.
Bay of Plenty clinical lead for the National Bowel Screening Programme, Dr Alex Lampen-Smith, says the programme is aimed at raising awareness and getting people talking about bowel cancer.
"We should be encouraging each other to do the test. While the likelihood of having bowel cancer is slim, finding it at an early stage means it can often be successfully treated, and we can prevent further deaths," she says.
As well as detecting bowel cancer, the follow-up investigation for a positive test, usually a colonoscopy, will also remove growths in the bowel (polyps), which can become cancerous over time.
Bay of Plenty is the final District Health Board to go live with the programme and thus completes the national roll out of the programme, which started in July 2017.
The Tauranga and Whakatāne Hospital endoscopy teams have been hard at work making sure there is capacity for the upcoming increased demand for colonoscopy procedures and for treating bowel cancer. The units expect to perform an additional 750 colonoscopies a year because of the screening programme. From those they expect to find around 40 to 50 cancers and remove 500-600 polyps.
Community events are being planned across the region to mark the Bay of Plenty launch of the National Bowel Screening Programme.
How the screening process works:
The National Bowel Screening Programme sends out a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit in the mail every two years to those in the eligible age range.
When it is a person’s turn to be screened, they receive an invitation letter, a consent form, and a free bowel screening kit.
The free test is quick and simple to do by yourself at home.
Once the kit is used, it should be posted back in the pre-paid envelope as soon as possible. It needs to arrive at the laboratory for testing within seven days of it being completed.
If the test is negative, participants will be sent a letter with the results of the test. Nothing further needs to be done until it's time to do the kit again in two years. If the test is positive, the participant's GP will be in contact to arrange a free appointment to discuss the results and the next steps.
Bowel screening is not right for everyone, including those who:
- have symptoms of bowel cancer
- have had a colonoscopy within the last five years
- are on a bowel polyp or bowel cancer surveillance programme
- have had, or are currently being treated for, bowel cancer
- have had their large bowel removed
- have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that is currently active
- are seeing a doctor about bowel problems.
Bowel Cancer Symptoms:
The National Bowel Screening Programme is for those who have no symptoms of bowel cancer.
If you have any of the following symptoms, or you are concerned about your bowel health, see your GP right away:
- a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks
- blood in your bowel motion (poo).