Business as usual for cancer screening


17 September 2021 


On average, one person with cancer is identified each month by the Whanganui bowel screening programme.


And another six people with high-risk polyps that can develop into cancer are discovered each month.


As the Whanganui District Health Board’s bowel cancer screening programme approaches its second anniversary next month, people are being urged to engage with the life-saving campaign by returning testing kits.


Despite the Alert Level 4 lockdown, test kits have continued to be posted out, and they should still be returned to be processed by the lab, says Judy McIntyre, Bowel Screening Coordinator for the Whanganui programme.


“Even though we have a COVID-19 outbreak, it is still business as usual for us,” she said.


“We continue to have good participation rates for our region and we are still diagnosing cancers through the programme.


“So we encourage anyone who has received a kit but hasn’t yet completed it, to do so.”


Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in New Zealand after lung cancer, claiming 1200 Kiwi lives every year.


The screening programme is for men and women aged 60 to 74 years and involves a simple test done at home using a kit that arrives in the post.


The test aims to pick up bowel cancer early or detect changes that could lead to bowel cancer. It detects minute traces of blood in a sample of faeces which can be an early warning sign for bowel cancer.


The sample should be posted off within seven days of the test, and it is then checked at the laboratory. People will be notified if further investigation is required, typically through a colonoscopy. Like the test, follow-up investigation and treatment is free.


Bowel cancer is very treatable if picked up early. People diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer who receive treatment early have a 90 per cent chance of long-term survival.


Whanganui joined the national screening programme in October 2019, becoming the ninth DHB to join.


Whanganui GP John McMenamin, the Ministry of Health’s bowel screening lead for primary care, commented: “There may be no warning that you have bowel cancer, so doing the bowel screening test is an easy way to identify that something might be wrong.


“I encourage all patients in the 60-74 year age group to complete their kit when it arrives in the mail.”