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Bowel Screening

Bowel cancer screening is free for most men and women aged 60–74 years of age. 

The aim of the National Bowel Screening Programme is to save lives by finding pre-cancerous polyps or bowel cancer at an early stage when they can often be successfully treated. Bowel screening is for people who aren’t showing any symptoms of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or colon cancer, is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage). It occurs when normal cells lining the inside of the bowel become abnormal and grow out of control. These cells can turn into polyps (growths) and, over a number of years, some polyps may eventually develop into 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 in the country.

Why participate in bowel screening?

There may be no warning signs that you have bowel cancer. Bowel screening every two years can help to detect pre-cancerous polyps or bowel cancer at an early stage. Those diagnosed and treated early have a 90% chance of long term survival, according to the Ministry of Health.

Bowel screening is free for those who are eligible, as are any follow-up tests or treatments.

Find out more benefits of bowel screening.

Taking part in bowel screening

The National Bowel Screening Programme is an invitation-based screening programme. You have the choice to opt out of bowel screening if you wish.

To be invited to participate in the bowel screening programme, you must:

  • be aged 60 to 74 years
  • be eligible for publicly-funded health care
  • not be receiving treatment or surveillance for bowel cancer.

If you’re eligible, you will receive an invitation letter, a consent form and a free bowel screening faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit through the mail. The test kit is easy, quick and clean to complete at home, and is returned directly to the laboratory by freepost.

  • People with even-numbered birthdates should receive their bowel screening invitations by July 2019
  • From 25 April 2019, those with odd-numbered birthdates should receive bowel screening invitations within eight weeks of their next birthday
  • Those turning 60 become eligible for the programme, and should receive their bowel screening invitations within eight weeks of their birthday, irrespective of birthdate.

People aged 60 to 74 years of aged are encouraged to check that their address details are up to date with their GP.

If you haven’t received a bowel screening invitation and think you should have, please phone 0800 924 432.

Bowel screening test results

A positive bowel screening result indicates that there are traces of blood in your faeces, or poo. A positive bowel screening result does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, just that further investigation is required.

Your primary care provider will notify you of a positive bowel screening result either by phone or face-to-face. They will manage referrals and educate and support you to undergo a colonoscopy.

If further treatment is required, providers will work in partnership with Southern DHB to ensure you receive prompt and appropriate treatment.

Patients with a negative bowel screening result will be contacted automatically for bowel screening every two years while they are within the age range.

Find out more about test results.

About colonoscopy

A colonoscopy involves a specially-trained health professional putting a thin tube into your anus (bottom). There is a small camera on the end of the tube which is used to examine the bowel lining to detect any problems.

A colonoscopy can identify whether polyps (growths) or cancers are present. Polyps are not cancers but may develop into bowel cancer over a number of years. If polyps are found, they are generally removed.

If cancer is found, a sample or biopsy will be taken, and a treatment plan determined. For more information, please discuss with your medical professional.


Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

If you have bowel symptoms that concern you at any age, such as blood in your bowel motion or changes to your normal bowel habits that continue for several weeks, please contact your GP immediately.

You are more at risk of bowel cancer if:

  • you have a strong family history of bowel cancer (for example, if a close family member was diagnosed before 55 years of age, or if two or more close family members of the same side of the family have had bowel cancer)
  • you have had extensive inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years
  • you have a known or suspected family history of genetic bowel cancer syndrome.

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  • They come from all walks of life, yet are united by their shared belief in the importance of looking after our health through bowel screening.