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Southern DHB prepares to launch National Bowel Screening

Southern DHB prepares to launch National Bowel Screening Programme

The countdown to the Southern launch of the National Bowel Screening Programme is well and truly underway.

From the end of April, over 51,000 residents in Otago and Southland, aged 60 – 74 years of age, will be invited to participate in the national programme.

This free programme, which is available to men and women, will save lives through detecting pre-cancerous polyps, or finding bowel cancer early, when it can often be successfully treated. Those eligible will receive an invitation letter, home testing kit and consent form through the mail. The test detects minute traces of blood in a sample of faeces (poo). This can be an early warning sign for bowel cancer, alerting health providers that further investigation is required, typically through a colonoscopy procedure.

Men and women living in the Southern district will be among the first people in the South Island to take part in the National Bowel Screening Programme. Those eligible will be invited to take a screening test every two years.

There is keen anticipation amongst the wider health community as Dr Jason Hill, clinical lead for the Southern DHB National Bowel Screening Programme, explains: "Southern has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the country and New Zealand has some of the highest rates in the world. We estimate over 100 cases of bowel cancer will be detected during the first two years of the programme, many of which will be in the early stages when it is easier to treat. That means this programme will be incredibly valuable to many of our residents as it will save lives and will truly benefit individuals, as well as their families, whānau and wider community.”

The anticipated ‘spike’ in the number of colonoscopies that will be required in the first two years of the programme will be accommodated in a new endoscopy facility, currently under construction at Dunedin Hospital. “We expect there to be an increase in colonoscopies due to the screening, but also because the programme can make people more vigilant about taking action if they have any symptoms,” explains Dr Hill.

New staff are being recruited to support the programme including a senior medical officer, nursing and administration staff. GPs and primary care staff are also a key part of the programme. They will be contacting participants about positive test results and supporting them on their journey through diagnosis and treatment.

All tests and treatment are free for eligible participants (people who are eligible to receive public healthcare, and who are not currently receiving treatment, or surveillance for bowel cancer.)
However, the screening programme is only for people with no symptoms of bowel cancer. Common symptoms include a change to a person’s normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks and/or blood in a bowel motion. Although these symptoms are usually caused by other conditions, it’s important that people get them checked by their doctor.

Facts About Bowel Cancer
• New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and the Southern District has some of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the country
• Bowel cancer kills as many people as breast cancer and prostate cancer combined
• Currently 3,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and 1,200 die from it
• Bowel cancer is more common in those over 60 and affects more men than women
• Common symptoms may include:
o A change to your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks
o Blood in your bowel motion (poo)
• Although these symptoms are usually caused by other conditions, it’s important to get them checked by your doctor
• Deterioration of bowel health and bowel cancer is not a necessary part of aging. You can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by having a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre, regular exercise and by not smoking
• People don’t need to register, they will automatically be contacted by mail to participate in the programme. However, people aged 60 – 74 years of age are encouraged to ensure their details are up to date with their GP
• For more information about bowel cancer and the National Screening Programme visit or call 0800 924 0432

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