Free bowel tests start

The new National Bowel Screening Programme will be phased in from this month and will take three years to be fully implemented nationwide.

Overseas studies show that the screening test, when performed every two years in people aged 50 and over, can help reduce the number of deaths due to bowel cancer by 15 to 33 per cent, as a result of early stage bowel cancer detection, Bowel Cancer New Zealand says.

In 2011, a pilot study involved testing people aged 50 to 74 years living in the Waitemata District Health Board area.

But the new programme will only cover men and woman aged 60 to 74 years for the free screening test – a faecal blood test done at home.

After last year’s Budget announcement confirming funding for the programme, Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokeswoman Sarah Derrett said in a press release:

“While this is great news, it is disappointing to hear that full implementation may be five years away, and that those aged 50-59 will miss out.”

“International best practice is to screen those aged 50-74 years of age. While we wait for full nationwide implementation across this age range, lives will continue to be needlessly lost,” Ms Derrett said at the time.

The Ministry of Health defended the minimum age decision in a document on its website, saying during the pilot study, most bowel cancers were found in people older than 60 years of age, and younger participants with a positive test result were more likely to undergo a colonoscopy that resulted in ‘no bowel cancer or significant bowel abnormality being detected’.

Rolling out a national bowel screening programme using the same age range as the pilot would ‘overwhelm New Zealand’s colonoscopy resource’, the ministry says in the document.

For more details, click here.

First published: July 2017

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