Bowel screening programme detects cancer in 500 New Zealanders

Media release

07 February 2020

South Aucklander David Broughton has just got back from a surprise visit to whānau in Australia. He was prompted to make the journey after being treated for bowel cancer earlier last year.

David is one of more than 500 New Zealanders who’ve had their cancer detected through the National Bowel Screening Programme, which is being progressively introduced around the country. As well as finding cancers in 500 people since it started in July 2017, the programme has removed thousands of polyps (growths) that can become cancerous in time.

David, 65, is thankful to his wife for pushing him to do the free bowel screening test. ‘I’d been feeling dizzy but didn’t have any other symptoms. My wife said ‘just get it done; you never know’,’ he says.

The test came back positive and a colonoscopy revealed David had stage-three bowel cancer.

‘Most of my children live in Australia, so it was a shock for them to hear the news. As soon as I was well, I wanted to go over and surprise them for Christmas and play Santa for my mokopuna.’

Playing Santa is second nature to David who is the resident Santa at a local mall every year. He’s also an extra in movies and advertisements, including his latest role in a Singapore Airlines advertisement.

David went on to have surgery and a course of chemotherapy. Since finishing treatment in October, he has focused on improving his health so he could make the trip to see his whānau.

David says he’s grateful to the bowel screening programme for undoubtedly saving his life and is encouraging others, particularly Māori and Pacific people, to do the test.

‘When you get the test in the mail, don’t think twice. Do it! If bowel cancer is found early, you can overcome it. Don’t get diagnosed when it’s too late.’

The National Bowel Screening Programme is available free to people aged 60 to 74 in 10 of the country’s district health boards. Another six DHBs are set to join the programme this year. A list of DHBs offering bowel screening, and those still to join the programme, can be found on the Time to Screen website.

Stories like David’s, as well as being heart-warming, demonstrate the value of bowel screening, says Dr Jane O’Hallahan, Clinical Director of the National Screening Unit.

‘The programme is designed to detect early cancers in people who are usually not even aware there is anything wrong. People who are diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, and who receive treatment early, have a 90% chance of long term survival.

‘With this life saving programme becoming available to more and more New Zealanders, we are making inroads into reducing deaths from our second most common cancer.

‘If you or a family member have received a test kit in the mail, please do the test and send it back. For more than 500 New Zealanders that simple task has saved their lives,’ says Dr O’Hallahan.

Facts about bowel cancer

  • New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
  • Bowel cancer kills as many people as breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • More than 3,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and about than 1,200 die from it.
  • Bowel cancer is more common in those over 60 and affects more men than women.
  • Common symptoms may include:
    • a change to your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks
    • blood in your bowel motion (poo).
  • Although these symptoms are usually caused by other conditions, it’s important to get them checked by your doctor.
  • People don’t need to register for bowel screening; they will automatically be contacted by mail to participate in the programme. However, people aged 60–74 years are encouraged to ensure their contact details are up to date with their family doctor.

For more information about the programme, please visit Time to Screen, or call 0800 924 432, or talk to your family doctor.