National Bowel Screening Programme

The free National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is for men and women aged 60 to 74. It saves lives by detecting bowel cancer early, when it can often be successfully treated. This benefits patients and their families and reduces treatment costs.

Bowel cancer, also called colon, rectal or colorectal cancer, is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. About 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from it.

There may be no warning signs that bowel cancer is developing

How testing works

People eligible to participate in the bowel screening programme are invited to complete a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). The test kit arrives in the mail and is easy to do at home. It can detect tiny traces of blood in bowel motions (poo) that may be an early sign of pre-cancerous polyps (growths) or bowel cancer.

If a test is positive, participants are invited for additional screening, usually a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy involves looking inside the bowel with a long tube that has a tiny camera on the end. A colonoscopy can identify both cancers and polyps. Polyps are not cancers, but may turn into cancer over a number of years. It is usually possible to remove polyps during the colonoscopy procedure. This prevents them becoming cancer in the future.

For every 1000 people who complete a bowel screening test, about 50 will be positive. Of those, about 35 will be found to have polyps and on average 3 or 4 will have bowel cancer.

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Bowel screening in Taranaki

Taranaki DHB is working with the Ministry of Health to implement the NBSP in our region from August 2021. We estimate that in the first year of screening in Taranaki, with an eligible population of about 21,000 people:

  • 12,000 will be invited to participate
  • 380 will return a positive FIT test
  • 340 will proceed to have a colonoscopy
  • 26 will be found to have bowel cancer

Bowel screening frequently asked questions

Who is eligible?

People aged 60 to 74 and eligible for publicly funded New Zealand health care.

How is the kit received?

People aged 59 will be sent the kit around their 60th birthday, regardless of birth date, by the National Coordination Centre.

People aged 60-73 will receive the pack around their birthday.

People aged 74 will be the first group to receive a kit, and will be invited to screen before their 75th birthday.

How is the test conducted?

The test kits will be sent to eligible people in the post to their homes.

A small sample from the bowel motion (poo) is taken using the test stick, and put it into the tube.

The sample tube is placed in the zip-lock bag provided, along with the signed and completed consent form.

The sample should be posted as soon as possible in the reply-paid envelope provided to avoid the sample being spoilt. The test needs to reach the laboratory within 7 days of being completed, otherwise it won’t be accepted. To prevent any postal delays, it’s best not to send it on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The test kit should be completed within six months of receiving it or the laboratory won’t be able to process it. It’s best to do the test as soon as possible! The laboratory can’t process tests which have passed their expiry date.

How often does the screening take place?

After people have had their initial screen, those eligible will be invited to screen again every two years until they reach 75 years of age.

How does the test work?

The test is called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). This test can detect tiny traces of blood present in a small sample of your bowel motion (poo) – which may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your bowel.

How are the results received by the participant?

Where the FIT result is negative the participant receives a letter notifying the result and advising that they will be invited to screen again in two years.

Where the FIT result is positive, this will be notified to the participant’s GP or the NBSP Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) where there is no primary care provider. The GP or CNS NBSP will contact the patient to discuss their result and advise them of the nest steps.

Who should not do the bowel screening test?

The bowel screening test should not be conducted where a person:

  • has symptoms of bowel cancer
  • had a colonoscopy within the last five years
  • is on a bowel polyp or bowel cancer surveillance programme
  • have had, or are currently being treated for, bowel cancer
  • have had the large bowel removed
  • has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that is currently active
  • is seeing their doctor about bowel problems.

Who is leading the Taranaki DHB Bowel Screening Programme?

The bowel screening lead is Dr Tom Boswell, Gastroenterologist.

The Clinical Nurse Specialist is Kareen Mcleod, RN. Enquiries about the programme should be directed to Kareen in the first instance via

Further information

National Screening Unit:

Ministry of Health Bowel Screening:


Last updated: Tuesday, August 17, 2021

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