The National Bowel Screening Programme is rolling out across the Waikato region from March, aiming to save lives through early detection of pre-cancerous polyps or bowel cancer.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and it is the second-highest cause of cancer death across the country.
Each year 3000 people are diagnosed and 1200 people will die from it. But if found early, it can often be treated successfully.
In Waikato there are more than 66,000 men and women aged 60-74 who will be eligible for the free programme. A test kit will be sent in the mail every two years to those who can receive public healthcare, around the time of their birthday.
The rollout will be staged with kits sent to people with an even-numbered birthday during the programme's first year and to those with an odd-numbered birthday in the second year.
It's hoped the programme will prove a lifesaver in Waikato. Figures from 2017 show that 41 per cent of the 285 bowel cancers detected were diagnosed in people within the age range of the National Bowel Screening Programme.
Waikato clinical lead for the National Bowel Screening Programme Dr Liz Phillips says the programme is also about raising awareness and getting people talking about bowel cancer.
"We should be encouraging each other to do the test because, while the chance of having cancer is slim, if a pre-cancer is present, the odds of picking it up and treating it are very high and we can prevent further deaths," she says.
The Waikato Hospital endoscopy team has been hard at work making sure there is capacity for an increase in demand for colonoscopies. The unit expects to perform an additional 1100 colonoscopies a year as a result of the screening programme.
From those they expect to find around 70 to 80 cancers and remove 700-800 pre-cancerous polyps.
Community events are being planned across the region to mark the Waikato launch of the National Bowel Screening programme.
How the screening process works
The National Bowel Screening Programme will send out a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit in the mail every two years to those in the eligible age range.
When it is the participants turn to be screened, they will receive an invitation letter, a consent form, and a free bowel screening kit.
The free test is quick, clean and simple to do by yourself at home.
The kit will last up to six months if the seal is unbroken, giving you time to discuss it with friends, family or your doctor and to complete it in your own time.
Once the seal is broken it should be used as soon as possible because it needs to arrive at the laboratory for testing within seven days of it being completed. The kit can be sent in the post using a prepaid protective envelope.
Participants will then be sent a letter with the results of the test. If negative, nothing further needs to be done until it's time to do the kit again in two years.
If positive, the participant's GP will be in contact to arrange a free appointment to discuss the results and the next steps.
Most people with a positive test have a pre-cancer rather than a cancer and have a high chance of successful treatment.
Bowel Cancer Symptoms:
The National Bowel Screening Programme is for those who have no symptoms of bowel cancer.
If you have any of the following symptoms, or you are concerned about your bowel health, see your GP right away:
• a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks
• blood in your bowel motion (poo).
For more information, visit the Time to Screen website, call the National Bowel Screening Programme on 0800 924 432, or talk to your doctor.