A bowel screening test is for people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. Read on to learn what options are available to you.


New Zealand’s National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP)

When fully implemented, the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) will offer free screening to all eligible New Zealanders aged 60-74. Visit the NBSP website for more information.

Bowel screening is now offered by 17 DHBs with Taranaki, Northland and Bay of Plenty still to join. The list of DHBs now offering screening is available at Time to Screen with the nationwide rollout expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Once fully implemented, the programme will invite 700,000 New Zealanders to participate in bowel screening every two years. After full roll-out, initial detection rates are estimated at 500-700 cancers each year.

How does the programme work?
Bowel screening will be offered every two years to men and women aged 60-74 who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare.

When it is your turn to be screened, you will receive an invitation letter, a consent form, and a free bowel screening kit. Invitations are sent within two years of the programme starting in your area.

However, bowel screening is not right for everyone. You should not take part if you:

  • 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 your large bowel removed
  • have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that is currently active
  • are seeing your doctor about bowel problems.

BowelScreen Aotearoa kits

BowelScreen Aotearoa is a collaboration between Bowel Cancer New Zealand, Bowel Cancer Australia and Green Cross Health to provide greater access to bowel cancer screening throughout New Zealand.

The screening kit can detect non-visible blood in your bowel motion caused from pre-cancerous polyps or from early stage bowel cancer.

A faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit is an option for New Zealanders who:

  • Do not have symptoms of bowel cancer. Anyone with symptoms should see their doctor.
  • Are aged 50 years plus with an average risk of bowel cancer*
  • Are between the ages of 60 to 74 years but cannot access the National Bowel Screening Programme due to their location.
  • Have private insurance or can afford to go privately should the test come back positive.

Medical guidelines recommend the test is undertaken every 2 years from age 50 years if there is an average risk of bowel cancer. Bowel Cancer New Zealand recommends participating in screening appropriate to your personal level of risk.*

* People with (i) no first- or second-degree relative with bowel cancer; or (ii) one first-degree relative with bowel cancer diagnosed at 55 years or older; or (iii) one first-degree and one second-degree relative diagnosed with bowel cancer at 55 years or older.

Information on purchasing a kit

    1. The FIT kit includes the following items: 1 Test Card; 1 Brush Kit; 1 Patient Information Form and 1 Instruction Sheet
    2. The kit costs $65 including freight to you.
    3. The test is analysed by Clinical Genomics in Sydney. This must be done within 14 days of providing the sample otherwise the test will have expired. It must be couriered within 2 – 3 days of completing the test due to COVID-19 delivery delays.
    4. Please only use DHL or TNT couriers which cost from $35 to $50, otherwise, your kit may not get there in time. We advise you to seek clarification from the international courier service you select what their expected delivery time is. Bowel Cancer New Zealand is not liable for courier delays.
    5. The results are sent to you and to your GP. If the test is positive the next step is typically a colonoscopy. This could cost between $1,900 to $2,500. Private medical insurance may cover this cost, otherwise, the patient may be asked to pay for this private procedure themselves.
    6. To follow up test results please contact Clinical Genomics either by email help@clinicalgenomics.com or phone +61 2 9887 5300
    7. Please read this information on the faecal immunochemical test.

Due to delays in courier deliveries as a result of Covid, the screening kits are temporarily unavailable.

What does bowel screening involve?

A bowel screening test is for people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. However, bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs and screening is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of dying of bowel cancer. When caught early, 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully.

The screening test is called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and it checks for blood in your bowel motion, not for bowel cancer itself. The FIT can detect small amounts of blood in your bowel movement (stool), invisible to the naked eye. Blood can leak from pre-cancerous polyps or early stage bowel cancer and pass into bowel movements before any bowel cancer symptoms become apparent.

A screening kit contains a test stick for collecting a sample of your bowel motion, a sample tube to contain the stick, a consent form for you to sign, and secure packaging for posting the sample to the pathology laboratory for analysis. Results are sent to you and to your GP.

The screening test is simple, clean and fast, and you do it by yourself at home. To learn more, watch this brief ‘how to’ tutorial video and for further information about the National Bowel Screening Programme visit their website or phone 0800 924 432.

Understanding your bowel screening results

A positive screening result
This means blood has been detected in your sample and it is important to see your GP right away to discuss the result and be referred for further investigation via colonoscopy. The presence of blood does not always mean cancer: other conditions such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel can also produce blood in bowel movements. Whatever the cause, bleeding needs to be investigated with a colonoscopy. If polyps are identified they can be removed during this procedure, and a diagnosis of bowel cancer can be confirmed.

False positive test results can occur
False positive results can occur too where screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn’t) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by more tests, such as a biopsy, which have their own risk factors.

A negative screening result
This means blood has not been detected in your sample, and it is recommended that you repeat a bowel screening test every two years. A negative result does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop, bowel cancer because some bowel cancers do not bleed, or bleed on and off. If you develop bowel cancer symptoms in between screenings, see your GP right away.

False negative results can occur
Screening test results may appear normal even though bowel cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care even if there are symptoms.

*Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks.

Some people interpret ‘screening’ as ‘prevention’. A screening test cannot prevent a disease however, it can identify abnormalities or irregularities which warrant further investigation, like a colonoscopy procedure to detect (and remove) pre-cancerous polyps or bowel cancer.


It may be helpful to discuss screening with your GP or pharmacist before having a test so you are aware of the risks and whether that test has been proven to reduce the likelihood of dying from cancer.