The wait is over as the National Bowel Screening Programme finally begins in Whanganui.

The programme will be launched on October 22 and Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall is delighted it has reached the River City.

McDouall has had his own experience with seeing the effects of bowel cancer first-hand.

In his Otago University days, McDouall remembers his friend, a fit and talented footballer who loved music, becoming unwell and experiencing pain, thinking it was due to an ulcer.

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That "ulcer" turned out to be bowel cancer and his friend died.

The launch of the national programme follows the successful six-year pilot run by the Waitemata District Health Board. It will offer free screening to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare.

Whanganui District Health Board anticipates 25 cases of bowel cancer will be identified in the first two years of the screening programme and that many of these will be in the early stages.

McDouall has another connection to the programme as his best friend Matthew is the son of Susan Parry, the clinical director of the programme and gastroenterologist.

"I know Susan very well, and I know she has done some wonderful work and is very passionate about this programme. She is also extremely humble, but this is an amazing thing that will save lives."

It is estimated that of every 1000 people screened, 50 will be positive and 500 to 700 cancers can be expected to be detected every year once the programme is fully rolled out in June 2021.

When fully implemented, more than 700,000 people nationwide will be invited to take part in the programme every two years.

Bowel cancer is more common in men than women and for those aged over 60.

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The Ministry of Health said a screening every two years can help save lives by finding bowel cancer early and it can often be successfully treated.

The free screening test is quick, clean and simple to do by yourself at home.

All those eligible will be sent an invitation letter, a consent form and a free bowel screening test kit through the mail within two years of the programme starting in Whanganui.

The test, which should be returned by post, can detect tiny traces of blood present in a small sample of your bowel motion.

A positive test result does not necessarily mean cancer is present. It could be another minor condition but, if positive, it could mean further investigation is required, usually with a colonoscopy.

A negative result means that no further investigation is needed but it is important to note the screening test detects blood in the bowel motion, and some cancers do not bleed all the time.

Bowel cancer may also start to develop between screening tests so regular screening is important and participants will be invited for screening every two years while they are eligible.

McDouall encouraged everyone who receives a test kit in the post to participate.