New data shows that more than 160 people who have taken part in the Waitemata bowel screening programme have been found to have cancer.
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew says the data for the first two years helps build a picture of how New Zealand could run a national bowel screening programme, and what would need to be in place to do that safely and to a high standard.
“Provisional results for the first two years of the programme show that most of the cancers were found at an early stage, when they can often be cured,” says Mrs Goodhew.
“These are people who had no symptoms at all, and no idea they might have bowel cancer.
“They have done the simple bowel screening test, received a result that indicates there may be a problem, been referred for a colonoscopy and the cancer has been found.”
In the first two years of the programme more than 67,500 people completed a bowel screening test and more than 4300 people with a positive result went on to have a colonoscopy through the programme.
A colonoscopy can identify whether a person has cancer and can find and remove pre-cancerous growths called polyps.
At the end of the first two year screening round, almost 54 per cent of people who were invited to take part in the programme had returned a completed test.
“We know people are still waiting too long for a colonoscopy and it’s critical that district health boards (DHBs) lift their game in this area so they could cope with the additional demands of a national bowel screening programme,” says Mrs Goodhew.
“More than 40,000 publicly funded colonoscopies are performed each year, but every year, there is a shortfall. This shortfall will increase if there is a national bowel screening programme.
“Early identification and treatment of bowel cancer is a Government priority. The Government is focusing on improving access to diagnostic and treatment services, so people receive tests and treatment in a timely way.
“The Government is investing heavily in helping DHBs improve their endoscopy services. In 2013, $3.6 million was made available so DHBs could deliver additional colonoscopies, and this was followed by a further $8 million in Budget 2014 to help improve waiting times.
“Work is also underway to boost the endoscopy workforce and to determine whether we have enough highly-trained people to perform the colonoscopies that would be needed if there was a national bowel screening programme.”
The four-year $24 million bowel screening pilot runs in the Waitemata DHB area until December 2015.