The first of 17,000 potentially lifesaving bowel screening kits have been posted to men and women aged 60 to 74 in the Lakes District Health Board area.
It's first the health board in the Midlands region, which covers Rotorua and Taupō, to take part in the free national screening programme.
Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer and includes cancer of both the colon and rectum.
Lakes District Health Board has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in New Zealand, and internationally Kiwis have some of the highest rates in the world.
The screening is designed for people with no symptoms yet, because people diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, and who receive treatment early, have a 90 per cent chance of long term survival.
Ministry of Health clinical director Dr Susan Parry said the local screening would be "lifesaving".
"We know that 80 per cent of bowel cancers occur in people over 60 so we urge communities and whānau to encourage eligible family members to complete and send back the test kits that come in the post.
"This is particularly important for Māori, who represent 20 per cent of Lakes DHB's population. Māori are often diagnosed with bowel cancer at an advanced stage."
The first invitations, home-testing kits, and consent forms were sent out on Tuesdaylast week.
All eligible participants will receive their first invitation within two years.
The faecal immunochemical (FIT) test detects minute traces of blood in a sample of faeces which can be an early warning sign.
Positive results will be passed on by participants' GPs.
People with negative results will be invited again every two years until they reach age 75.
New Lakes District Health Board staff have been recruited to support the programme including a clinical nurse co-ordinator and health promoter.
The Government announced the rollout of the programme in Budget 2016, and the Lakes District Health Board is the eighth to join.
Health boards have to demonstrate they have the specialist staff and facilities to deliver the programme before joining.
"Lakes DHB has worked hard to do this and we're delighted," Dr Parry said.
Lobby group Beat Bowel Cancer NZ hopes the screening will extend to ages 50-74.
Bowel cancer is most common in that age group, but it affects people of all ages.
Bowel cancer in New Zealanders
- More than 3000 diagnosed every year
- At least 1200 die from it each year, the same as breast cancer and prostate cancer combined
- More than 300 under 50 diagnosed each year
- One in 18 will develop it in their lifetime
Source: Beat Bowel Cancer NZ
Symptoms of bowel cancer
- Bleeding from the bottom (rectal bleeding) without any obvious reason, or straining, soreness, lumps, and achiness
- Going to the toilet more often or looser stools for several weeks
- Abdominal pain, especially if severe
- Lump(s) in tummy
- Weight loss and tiredness
Source: Beat Bowel Cancer NZ