It’s free and it could save your life
July 4, 2019
The new free National Bowel Screening Programme is proving to be a life saver, and a Hastings resident says more people need to take advantage of it.
Marcia Waldin, who has taken the test and since had treatment, cannot believe that some people are not taking up the offer – particularly given it is free and the test kit arrives in the letterboxes of those eligible.
Mrs Waldin had no symptoms that suggested she might be on the way to getting bowel cancer, but her test came back positive and she had since had five pre-cancerous polyps removed. “I am very proud of myself for doing the test and hope everyone who gets the chance takes up the opportunity.”
She was one of more than 100 Hawke’s Bay people who had polyps removed and one of eight who had been treated for bowel cancer, all diagnosed through the first roll-out of the free test to 7000 people. “That is life-saving,” said Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Clinical Lead of Gastroenterology, Dr Malcolm Arnold.
Based on the numbers so far, a fair estimate is that nearly 70 people of the 2000 who had not taken the test could need to have polyps removed, and between four and seven could be expected to have cancer, said Dr Arnold.
The first of the test kits were mailed to 7000 Hawke’s Bay people aged between 60 to 74 over the six months to April this year, with the rest of that age group due to receive their kits over the next 18 months.
“The screening programme helps us identify cancers earlier and allows us to remove pre-
cancerous polyps which will, in the medium to long term, reduce the incidence of bowel cancer,” said Dr Arnold. “People diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer who receive treatment early have a 90 per cent chance of long-term survival.”
Dr Arnold says completing the test is easy. “A poo sample is collected on a test stick, placed in a sample tube then secured in a zip-lock bag. A Freepost envelope is provided and within three weeks of a sample being posted, that person is contacted about their results.”
Mrs Waldin confirms that the test could not be simpler. “I’m in my 70s; if I can do it anyone can. I know people who are not doing it, and I don’t understand why not. It’s not hard; it’s not even that unpleasant.”
She does admit that it took a few days to get around to it. “It was on the table looking at me, and in the end I just thought ‘if you’re going to do it, do it’.”
Within a week of mailing her test back in, she had a call from the hospital advising that she needed further investigation, and what that would entail.
“Even that was not bad. I was given a list of foods I could eat on the second-to-last day before the operation, and then a drink - a bit like a lemon drink – on the last day. It certainly cleans you out; but it’s not terrible.”
She attended the “beautiful” new Ruakopito endoscopy and gastroenterology unit at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, underwent the colonoscopy procedure, and was home the same day.
The result was certainly worth it. Mrs Waldin will have a follow-up appointment in three years, to check that she is completely well and that no new polyps have developed. “I’m actually very proud of myself for doing this; for taking advantage of the test kit. I would not have done it; not even known to do it, if the kit had not arrived in my letterbox.”
Dr Arnold said the test kits are being rolled out as quickly as possible, but people who have symptoms should not wait to receive one. “Anyone with symptoms such as bleeding from the bottom or blood in their poo, a change in bowel habits lasting more than six weeks, tummy pain which can be severe, any lumps or mass in your tummy, or weight loss and tiredness, should see their doctor.”
People who had received a kits but delayed making a decision on taking the test should check the expiry date. If the kit is past its use by date, phone the National Bowel Screening Programme help line for a new one: 0800924 432.