Free Bowel Screening

Time to Screen is a free government-run programme to help detect bowel cancer.

It is offered every two years to people aged 60 to 74 years who are eligible for publicly funded health care.

Māori and Pasifika will be invited to participate in bowel screening from 50 years old, which is rolling out nationally and is now underway at Te Whatu Ora Waikato. The starting age is lower because a higher proportion of bowel cancer occurs in Māori and Pacific people before reaching 60, compared with others. More information can be found here.

When it is your turn to be screened, you will receive an invitation letter, a consent form, and a free bowel screening kit.

Screening is one of the most effective ways to find bowel cancer early before it spreads. Call Time to Screen on 0800 924 432 or visit their website to learn more.

What does bowel screening involve?

A bowel screening test is for people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. However, bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs and screening is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of dying of bowel cancer. When caught early, 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully.

The screening test is called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and it checks for blood in your bowel motion, not for bowel cancer itself. The FIT can detect small amounts of blood in your bowel movement (stool), invisible to the naked eye. Blood can leak from pre-cancerous polyps or early stage bowel cancer and pass into bowel movements before any bowel cancer symptoms become apparent.

A screening kit contains a test stick for collecting a sample of your bowel motion, a sample tube to contain the stick, a consent form for you to sign, and secure packaging for posting the sample to the pathology laboratory for analysis. Results are sent to you and to your GP.

The screening test is simple, clean and fast, and you do it by yourself at home. To learn more, visit the National Bowel Screening Programme website or phone 0800 924 432.

Understanding your bowel screening results

A positive screening result This means blood has been detected in your sample and it is important to see your GP right away to discuss the result and be referred for further investigation via colonoscopy. The presence of blood does not always mean cancer: other conditions such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel can also produce blood in bowel movements. Whatever the cause, bleeding needs to be investigated with a colonoscopy. If polyps are identified they can be removed during this procedure, and a diagnosis of bowel cancer can be confirmed.

A negative screening result This means blood has not been detected in your sample, and it is recommended that you repeat a bowel screening test every two years. A negative result does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop, bowel cancer because some bowel cancers do not bleed, or bleed on and off. If you develop bowel cancer symptoms in between screenings, see your GP right away.

If you are not eligible for the National Bowel Screening Programme and have any concerns regarding your bowel health, please see your GP for further advice and testing without delay.

Published on: 3 April 2024