One Dunedin man is incredibly grateful, after taking a simple test saved his life. And he wants to encourage others to do the same.

Michael Horgan, 65, of Brighton, had absolutely no symptoms of bowel cancer, but decided to take a test for the disease out of curiosity.

Horgan had been visiting Wellington last August when he read an article in a local newspaper about a trial bowel cancer screening programme in the city which showed a high incidence of the disease in men over 60.

When he returned home to Dunedin and went for his annual check-up with GP Robyn Blake, he asked her about taking the faecal immunochemical test (FIT).


After discussing his options with Dr Blake, Horgan bought the $60 test kit from a local pharmacy and followed the simple procedure.

After being sent away for analysis, the results came back positive for bowel cancer.

Dr Blake told The Star that, although Horgan's test was positive, such a result did not always mean that bowel cancer was present in all patients.

Horgan's positive result was sent to Dunedin Hospital for further action but as he had no symptoms of bowel cancer, his request was unable to be accommodated.

Concerned, Horgan decided to get further testing done privately.

A colonoscopy showed that a tumour was present, leading to a diagnosis of bowel cancer.

It was shock for the otherwise healthy man.

"I was so surprised because I was fit and healthy, had a physical job and had absolutely no symptoms,'' he said.

"After that, it all happened very quickly.''

The cancer was diagnosed on November 28, 2017, and Horgan was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour just over a week later.

His wife Jennifer said "it was such a shock''.

"Your whole life is turned upside down in such a short time.''

The week-long wait for the results was a worrying time, she said.

"You couldn't help but think the worst.''

However, when the results came back it showed Horgan was cancer free, which was "an absolute relief'', he said.

"The worst thing I was thinking was, if I had it, I wouldn't be able to see my grandsons grow up.''

Horgan went back to work last week "after a roller-coaster three months'' and is relieved that his life is back to normal.

He said he felt very lucky a sequence of events led to him taking the test.

"I say 'I'm so lucky' every morning.''

Both Horgan and his wife said they would encourage anyone to take the faecal immunochemical test, even if they did not have any symptoms.

"Don't leave it too late - go and get your test. If I had waited another six months, things could've been very different,'' Horgan said.

"Sixty dollars saved my life and it could save someone else.''

Southern District Health Board surgical services and radiology general manager Dr Janine Cochrane said, while the board was unable to comment on individual cases, a diagnosis of bowel cancer was "devastating to a patient''.

"New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, and it is for this reason that a national bowel screening programme is being rolled out.''

The Southern DHB would be the first DHB in the South Island to offer free screening for bowel cancer, starting in April.

Until a publicly funded screening programme is under way, DHB staff are operating in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines.

These state that publicly funded colonoscopy or colonography should not be offered to patients who have no family history or symptoms of bowel cancer.

"The advice to anyone who is concerned about their bowel health is to consult their local GP directly,'' Dr Cochrane said.

Bowel cancer: The facts

• Bowel cancer is cancer in any part of the colon or rectum. If caught early, bowel cancer is one of the most curable cancers.

• Bowel cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in New Zealand.

• 3000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year and 1200 New Zealanders die annually as a result of bowel cancer.

• Bowel cancer kills as many New Zealanders as breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.