Free bowel screening in Te Tairāwhiti

By Jessica Tyson

Free bowel screening will soon be available in Gisborne and surrounding districts within Tairāwhiti as part of the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP).

Hauora Tairāwhiti is the 11th district health board to join New Zealand’s newest cancer screening programme and the first to use a custom-built IT system that will manage and monitor a person’s screening journey from start to finish.

Over the next two years 9,500 people, aged 60 to 74, in the region, will be invited to complete a home testing kit that can detect bowel cancer early, when it can often be successfully treated.

NBSP Clinical Director Dr Susan Parry says it is important that members of the region’s large Māori population participate.

“Māori often have the worst outcomes when it comes to bowel cancer, so catching it early is key. I urge anyone who gets a letter of invitation in the mail, followed by a test kit, not to think twice. Just do the test and send it back. It could save your life.”

She says many people are totally unaware they have bowel cancer.

Catching it early

“That is why screening is so important. The testing kit is designed to pick up tiny traces of blood in a bowel motion and to catch cancers before they become advanced and more difficult to treat.”

With 1200 deaths a year, Aotearoa has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and it is the second most common cause of cancer death. Dr Parry says the disease typically affects older people.

“These are parents and grandparents who are often at a stage in their lives where they are enjoying some free time and performing an important role supporting whānau. It is tragic to lose these people before their time to an entirely preventable disease.”

Dr Parry today congratulated the team at Hauora Tairāwhiti, which has put a huge effort into meeting ministry requirements to begin bowel screening.

“I know there has been particularly good engagement with the district’s Māori health providers and that will continue. This programme is a significant health intervention that will benefit the people of Tarāwhiti in so many positive ways.”

The National Bowel Screening programme is now available in 11 district health board areas and is expected to be implemented nationwide by the end of 2021.

Since it began, just over three years ago, the programme has screened around 260,000 people and detected nearly 688 cancers, as well as removing hundreds of pre-cancerous polyps.