(January 2011) by Dr Bruce Sutherland

The Ministry of Health has just announced that the Waitemata region has been selected to run a pilot programme for bowel cancer screening. A first in New Zealand. This will begin late 2001 and will involve 130,000 adults from between 50-74 years of age. People in this age group will be sent a stool sampling kit by post. These kits are designed to detect hidden or “occult” quantities of blood in stool samples. If detected, patients are recalled to their GP for further investigations.

Bowel cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in New Zealand and is the second highest cause of cancer death. For women, we have the third highest bowel cancer death rate in the OECD and the sixth highest for men. In 2007, 2800 were diagnosed with bowel cancer and 1252 people died of it.

Bowel screening programmes are already underway in Australia, United Kingdom, most European countries, Korea, Japan and Israel. Screening and early detection has been shown to detect more cancers at an earlier stage and therefore to reduce the overall death rates from bowel cancer.

Note: Screening is for the general population, for people who have no symptoms and no risk factors. If you experience a change in your regular bowel habit or if you notice blood in your motions or if you have a close family member or a number of extended family members diagnosed with bowel cancer, don’t wait for the screening programme to begin – see your doctor!