Twelve months in, the Whanganui District Health Board's new bowel screening programme has changed the lives of multiple Whanganui families.
It has also put Whanganui on the map with some of the best screening uptakes in the country.
The programme, which involves sending out DIY testing kits to people aged 60 to 74, has had a 67 per cent participation rate, resulting in 130 colonoscopies, five CT scans and the early discovery of 11 different cancers. Invitations for testing were sent to 5824 people throughout the district.
Bowel cancer is the second most deadly cancer in New Zealand, claiming more than 1200 lives each year.
The testing numbers were especially pleasing for Dr John McMenamin, a Whanganui GP and the primary care lead for the National Bowel Screening Programme.
"Whanganui is celebrating the first anniversary of the National Bowel Screening Programme with pride because we have surpassed the goal for participation," McMenamin said.
"This is important because the more people who participate, the more cancers we find. If not for the screening programme, these cancers would not have shown up for some years. We found them early, resulting in much better outcomes for those people."
The participation figures are amongst the highest in the country, with the 67 per cent participation rate outstripping the national target of 60 per cent.
Even more impressive was the uptake amongst Māori and Pasifika patients, with 67 per cent and 71 per cent respectively taking up the testing, a remarkable feat that can be put down to the hard work of GPs, McMenamin said.
"More important still is the role GPs and practice nurses have performed in boosting the participation for Māori, Pasifika and otherwise disadvantaged patients," McMenamin said.
Esther Tinirau, who was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2016, is a proud advocate of widespread bowel cancer testing.
She said she was pleased with the results, particularly for Māori.
"I'm absolutely thrilled that the Whanganui DHB has managed this screening in a way that the results for Māori and Pasifika are on par, if not higher, than non-Māori. You just don't see that throughout the country."
Tinirau, who is now in remission and back working full-time after spending the first half of 2020 undergoing chemotherapy, said while the results were positive, there is still work to be done.
"I think that the results are fantastic, but I don't think the age is set at the right limit. I don't think 60-plus is a good starting point for the screening, it should be at least 50, if not lower.
"There are enough stats around to suggest the age for bowel [cancer] screening should be lower."
The test involves sending out a DIY kit, where participants collect a sample of faeces which is posted and subsequently tested for minute traces of blood. Participants are notified if further investigation, usually through a colonoscopy, is required.