The National Bowel Screening Programme is being rolled out progressively throughout New Zealand. Read on to learn more

New Zealand’s National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP)

Once fully implemented the National Bowel Screening Programme will offer free screening to all eligible New Zealanders aged 60-74 years. Waitemata, Counties Manukau, Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, Southern, Nelson/Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Whanganui, MidCentral and Lakes DHBs now offer free screening.

The remaining DHBs will progressively join the NBSP which is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the 2020/21 financial year. Once fully implemented the NBSP will invite 700,000 New Zealanders to participate in bowel screening every two years.

Approximately 500-700 cancers each year are expected to be detected initially once the programme is fully rolled out. Screening is for people who do not have symptoms of bowel cancer. Anyone with symptoms should see their doctor.

How the programme works:

  • Bowel screening will be offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 years, who are eligible for publicly funded health care.
  • When it is your turn to be screened you will be sent an invitation letter, a consent form and a free bowel screening test kit.
  • The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) can detect tiny traces of blood present in a small sample of your bowel motion. This may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your bowel.
  • The screening test is simple, clean and fast. You do it by yourself at home. Click here to watch a brief ‘how to’ tutorial video
  • You’ll receive your first invitation within two years of the programme starting in your area.

More information on the National Bowel Screening Programme is available on their Time to Screen website, or by phoning 0800 924 432.

Bowelscreen Aotearoa test kits are also available to purchase for people that do not qualify for the National Bowel Screening Programme. They can be bought from participating Life or Unichem pharmacies or online here. Any queries please contact their NZ helpline on 0800 849 104.

Please note the public health system may not pay for a colonoscopy if your screening test is positive. It is important you know this as the cost for a colonoscopy can range from $1900 to $2500 so you would need to have private health insurance or be able to pay privately.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand recommends participating in screening appropriate to your personal level of risk*.

Medical guidelines recommend people at average risk of bowel cancer screen using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT)
every 2 years from age 50.

If you have one relative diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 55 years or older, screening should be considered
every 2 years from age 45.

What’s involved

Bowel cancer screening involves a test for bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease.

Bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs. Often very small amounts of blood, invisible to the naked eye, leak from polyps and pass into bowel movements before any symptoms are noticed.

A bowel cancer screening test called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) can detect these small amounts of blood in bowel movements.

The test looks for blood in your bowel movement, but not for bowel cancer itself.

What's involved - bowel cancer screening

Screening using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer. The FIT can detect blood from pre-cancerous polyps or from early stage bowel cancer. When identified early, 75% of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated.

The faecal immunochemical test involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card and mailing them to a pathology laboratory for analysis. The results are then sent back to you and your GP.

A negative result means blood has not been detected in your samples and it is recommended that you repeat a bowel cancer screening test every 2 years. However, this does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop, bowel cancer, since some bowel cancers do not bleed or only bleed on and off. In between times, if you develop any symptoms of bowel cancer, see your GP immediately.

A positive result means blood has been detected in your samples. If blood is detected, you should contact your GP immediately to discuss the result and obtain a referral for further investigation via colonoscopy. The presence of blood may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel, but the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated by colonoscopy. During the procedure, any polyps can be identified and removed or a diagnosis of bowel cancer confirmed.

*Screening tests have risks

Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your GP or Pharmacist. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.

False-negative test results can occur

Screening test results may appear to be 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.

False-positive test results can occur

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 biopsy), which also have risks.