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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

National Bowel Screening Programme

Kaupapa ā motu Tātari Whēkau

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Illustration showing a healthy bowel with no polyps and a bowel that has polyps (tiny growths)The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is a free programme to help detect bowel cancer. It's being offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded health services.

Bowel screening is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. It could help save your life by finding bowel cancer at an early stage where it can often be successfully treated.

If you're eligible to take part in the programme, you'll be sent:

For more information about the NBSP, see Time to Screen or phone 0800-924-432.

You can also call 0800-924-432 to get information or help in another language.

How a bowel screening test is done

The test is simple. You collect a sample at home and post it to the laboratory in the reply-paid envelope provided with the test kit.

The test looks for tiny amounts of blood in your poo. Bowel cancers can bleed when they grow so the test may find tiny amounts of blood before you have any symptoms. Finding bowel cancer early means it's more likely to be curable.

If your test result is positive, you'll usually be referred for a follow-up test called a colonoscopy. This is a free test to check for polyps or cancers.

Most bowel cancers develop from a polyp (a tiny growth) that slowly gets bigger over many years. If we remove a precancerous polyp, we can prevent bowel cancer.

If any polyps are found during the colonoscopy, they will be removed at the same time.

A positive test result is quite common and doesn't necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer. Only seven out of a 100 people with a positive test result will have bowel cancer. Whereas seven out of 10 people with a positive test result will have polyps.

A negative result doesn't necessarily mean you do not have cancer. That is why it's important to take part in the programme every two years.

If you've done a self-bought test and it's positive, tell your GP. They're likely to talk with you to see if you have any symptoms. They will examine you and do a blood test to see if you have iron deficiency anaemia.

They will also talk with you about whether you'll be eligible for publicly funded investigations.

People with a higher risk of bowel cancer

This New Zealand leaflet is for people who have a higher risk of bowel cancer. It has specific information for people who have had adenomatous polyps, previous bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or who have a family history of bowel cancer. It tells you what bowel cancer is, what the symptoms are, how common it is, what you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer and what tests can be done to check for bowel cancer.

Certain people who have a higher risk of bowel cancer are eligible for different publicly funded screening programmes. If anyone in your family has had bowel cancer, if you've had bowel cancer or bowel polyps or if you have inflammatory bowel disease, talk to your GP about whether you qualify.

If you do not qualify for publicly funded bowel cancer screening, talk to your GP about your options. You may choose to pay to have private bowel cancer screening.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Gastroenterology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2020.


See also:

Bowel cancer

Bowel polyps

Bowel surgery

Page reference: 180522

Review key: HIBWC-17275