by Claire Allison

Just four months since the National Bowel Screening Programme was rolled out in South Canterbury, bowel polyps – often a precurser to bowel cancer – have been identified in 24 participants.

South Canterbury’s older demographic (22% of people are over 65 years of age compared with the national average of 15.2%) is one factor contributing to the region having one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the country  – 113 cancers found per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 65.7, based on 2013-2016 data.

More than 1000 returned tests have shown a negative result, while 50 tests have come back as positive for the presence of blood. The participant’s general practitioner or nurse practitioner will then arrange for further investigation, such as a colonoscopy or CTC.

Bowel polyps were found in 24 out of the 25 colonoscopies completed and others are booked in for procedures.

So far, no cancers have been diagnosed.

By the end of the first two years of the programme, about 12,000 people in the region, aged 60 to 74, will be invited to complete a home testing kit.

About 350-400 people will have potentially cancerous polyps (growths) removed during this time, 30 cancers are expected to be found over the two years and hundreds of people will have potentially cancerous polyps (growths) removed.

Expert team . . . Leading the bowel screening programme locally are (from left) NBSP nurse Carla Spence, NBSP clinical lead Dr Thomas Caspritz, endoscopy nurse Jill Wellford and registered nurse Jenny Guthrie. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Clinical lead for the South Canterbury DHB National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP), Dr Thomas Caspritz, said being able to identify and treat bowel polyps at an early stage was already changing people’s lives for the better, as almost always bowel cancer developed out of bowel polyps.

“Bowel cancer is often a symptomless disease, that’s why screening is so important. It could save your life.

“The home testing kit can detect bowel cancer and bowel polyps early as it’s designed to pick up tiny traces of blood in a bowel motion.”

Dr Caspritz said bowel cancers found through NBSP were often in early stages, and could be successfully treated and often be cured.

While it was early days, Dr Caspritz said results for the first few months of the programme seemed to be tracking well, with a participation rate as at March 8 of 57%, only 3% off the national target of 60% participation.

In the four months since the programme began, 1084 South Canterbury people took part, using a discreet, simple and clean-to-use home test kit, in which a small sample of bowel motion is collected on a test stick, placed in a sample tube and returned via freepost for testing.

More than 1000 test kits still to be completed were out in the community, and the DHB was encouraging people to return their tests.

“We are keen to raise awareness of how simple and easy these test kits are to use, and how important it is to take part, while also educating people about bowel cancer symptoms.

“The more people that take part in the programme, the more of a difference we can make,” Dr Caspritz said.

Anyone of any age – not just those aged between 60-74 years – is advised to see their doctor if they have any bowel symptoms that concern them.

The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is now available in the South Canterbury region.

  • It is free of charge for people aged 60 to 74 years of age who are eligible for public healthcare.
  • Invitations to participate are sent through the mail, followed by a test kit. Please ensure your contact details are up to date at your GP, so you don’t miss out
  • The kits are easy and simple to do, and samples are returned by mail for testing.
  • People will be sent an invitation around the time of their birthdate.
  • If you have an even birthdate (e.g. 2nd, 14th, 26th of the month) you will receive your invitation between now and October 2021.
  • If you have an odd birthdate e.g. 3rd, 15th, 27th of the month) you will receive your invitation between October 2021 and October 2022.
  • Those turning 60 will receive an invitation around the time of their birthday, regardless of their birthdate.
  • For more information visit or call freephone 800 924 432.