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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

National Bowel Screening Programme

Kaupapa ā motu Tātari Whēkau

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The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is a free programme to help detect bowel cancer. It is offered every 2 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.

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 you are eligible to take part in the programme, you will be sent:

For more information about the NBSP, see Bowel screening 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

Illustration showing a healthy bowel with no polyps and a bowel that has polyps (tiny growths)The test is simple. You collect a sample at home and post it straight away 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 is more likely to be curable.

Bowel screening test results

A positive test result is quite common and does not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer. Only 7 out of a 100 people with a positive test result will have bowel cancer. Whereas 7 out of 10 people with a positive test result will have polyps.

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

If you have done a self-bought test and it is positive, tell your general practice team. They are likely to talk with you to see if you have any symptoms. They will examine you and do blood tests.

They will also talk with you about whether you are eligible for publicly funded investigations.

Next steps

If your test result is positive, you will usually be referred for a follow-up test called a colonoscopy. This involves a tube with a camera being passed through your bottom to look at the inside of your bowel. This free test checks for polyps or cancers.

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

People with a higher risk of 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 have had bowel cancer or bowel polyps or if you have inflammatory bowel disease, talk to your general practice team about whether you qualify.

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

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2024.


See also:

Bowel cancer

Bowel polyps

Bowel surgery

Page reference: 180522

Review key: HIBWC-17275