Testing spreads to catch a ‘killer’
Hutt Valley and Wairarapa are the first two regions to get free screening for bowel cancer, as the initiative starts to be rolled out across the country.
Following a pilot scheme at Auckland’s Waitemata District Health Board that has been run since late 2011, a programme of free screening will be implemented in stages, with the whole country covered by 2020, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said.
Every year about 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and 1200 die from it.
As of today those who are eligible for free screening in the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa will be sent letters to let them know.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Hutt Valley District Health Board’s chief executive officer, said people aged between 60 and 74 were eligible for the service, unless they had were symptomatic, or already under surveillance for being at high risk of getting the cancer.
People taking part would receive a test kit in the mail, then they would send a sample back and the process would start from there.
The test looks for traces of blood in the faeces. If there was any indication of people needing further treatment, a colonoscopy would be arranged.
The Hutt Valley was expecting to do about 300 of those colonoscopies a year to start with, on top of the 1500 it did per year to check out people who already had symptoms, or knew they were genetically at risk of developing the cancer.
Bloomfield said bowel cancer was a major killer of both men and women.
‘‘We know bowel screening helps to reduce early deaths, there’s good evidence for that.’’
In Wairarapa, the programme was expected to pick up 20 cancers in the first two years that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, Wairarapa DHB chief executive officer Adri Isbister said.
She expected high engagement with the programme.
Coleman said that all-up 30,000 people across both regions would be invited to do a test in the next two years.
Once it was in place across the country, more than 700,000 people would be invited to have free screening every two years.
Up to 700 cancers were expected to be picked up every year.