National Bowel Screening Programme reaches 2 million life-saving screening kits

The National Bowel Screening Programme has reached a significant milestone, with two million home bowel screening kits distributed across the country, Health Minister Dr Shane Reti announced today.  

“This programme, which began in 2017, has detected 2,495 cancers as of June 2024. A third of these were at an early stage, where there is a greater than 90 per cent chance of five-year survival,” says Dr Reti. 

“That’s almost two-and-a-half-thousand New Zealanders who can thank the programme, which has also detected thousands of pre-cancerous polyps – growths in the bowel which can become cancerous if left untreated.

“Our Government is absolutely focused on improving cancer outcomes for New Zealanders. 

“The National Bowel Screening Programme is evidence that screening really works. However, screening is only one part of improving outcomes for New Zealanders with cancer. 

“Our Government has set a target that 90 per cent of patients receive cancer management within 31 days of the decision to treat. 

“We recently announced a $604 million boost to Pharmac’s budget, which will fund up to 26 cancer treatments for a number of cancer types, including bowel cancer. This fulfils a promise National made prior to the election.

“In fact, consultation started on Friday for the first two targeted cancer treatments, including one for colorectal cancer.”

To mark the screening programme milestone, Dr Reti visited the facility where the tests are packaged and distributed and met with a survivor whose bowel cancer was detected with a home screening kit. 

The two million screening kits milestone follows the completion of the nationwide rollout in June 2022. This means all eligible people aged 60 to 74 should now have been invited to take part in free bowel screening. 

“Early detection of bowel cancer saves lives and it’s heartening to hear that over a third of the cancers detected were at an early stage, where they can often be successfully treated, as was the case for the person I met today,” says Dr Reti. 

“As a GP, I strongly encourage people to take part in bowel screening – it can help detect bowel cancer before you have any symptoms. Bowel screening is simple, quick and free, and could save your life.”

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in New Zealand. Around 3300 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and more than 1200 die from it annually. People are invited to take part in free bowel screening through the National Bowel Screening Programme every two years from the age of 60 to 74.

For more information about bowel screening go to timetobowelscreen.nz, free phone 0800 924 432 (Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm), or email info@bowelscreening.health.nz