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Bowel Screening in New Zealand

June 7, 2017

It develops when the cells that line the bowel grow abnormally. They usually grow into a polyp, which is a mushroom like growth. About 5 % of these can then change and grow into a lump or tumour in the bowel, which has the ability to spread to other parts of the body. Most bowel cancers arise in the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum. Very rarely they can arise in the small bowel. We are still not sure exactly what causes bowel cancer. We know that there are genetic links and it can run in families. It usually starts with a benign polyp that changes over time. The earlier it is picked up the easier it is to treat. That is why screening is so important.

Common signs and symptoms are persistent diarrhoea or constipation that have gone on for a number of weeks. A feeling like your bowel doesn't empty completely or that you have blood in your bowel and mixed in with your stool. Often in the early stages there are no symptoms and if it is caught in the early stages then there is a 90 % chance of being successfully treated.

We are lucky enough to work in Waitemata DHB and most of our patients reside in the Waitemata DHB district so we have access to free bowel screening from the age of 50 to 74. Screening occurs every two years. As bowel cancer develops slowly being screened every two years is a good idea. This programme has been running from 2011 and early next year is going to be rolled out around the country to become the National Bowel Screening Programme. Unfortunately this increase in numbers of our population being screened means that the age of becoming eligible will be increased to 60. It is therefore important to have your test done while you can before this change occurs.

If you have not received a test and are eligible you can discuss this with your Medplus doctor at your next visit. If you have been sent a kit but you have lost it or it is out of date you can contact us and we can send a letter to the bowel-screening programme to resend another kit. It a very simple easy test and the outcomes so far have been really positive. About 7.5% of participants returned a positive test and went on to have a colonoscopy, which is a camera to examine the bowel. Out of these patients 6 out of 10 will have a polyp that is removed and 4 out of 10 will be found to have bowel cancer.

So talk to us if you have bowel symptoms. Make sure you take part in the screening test, as it is important to pick this disease up early. For further information check out their website