The bowel screening test

The test used by the National Bowel Screening Programme is a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). It can detect tiny traces of blood in a small sample of your bowel motion (poo). This may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your bowel.

You do the test yourself at home.

How to do the test

Do the test as soon as possible after you get it.

To do the test:

  • collect a small sample from poo using the test stick
  • scrape different parts of the surface of the poo, until the tip of the stick is well covered
  • put the test stick into the sample tube
  • place the sample tube in the zip-lock bag provided
  • put the zip-lock bag, along with the signed and completed consent form, in the reply-paid envelope
  • post it as soon as possible.

You need to return your test kit within 6 months of receiving it or the laboratory will not be able to process it.

Keep the sample in a cool place until you post it.

The bowel screening test is not right for everyone

You should not take part if you:

  • have symptoms of bowel cancer — see your healthcare provider as soon as possible
  • have had a colonoscopy within the last 5 years — contact us so we can invite you again in the future
  • are on a bowel polyp or bowel cancer surveillance programme
  • have had, or are currently being treated for, bowel cancer
  • have had your large bowel removed
  • have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that is currently active.

If any of these things apply to you, please talk to your doctor or contact us. Bowel screening may not be right for you. If you do not want to take part in the National Bowel Screening Programme, please call or email us.

Bowel cancer (internal link)

Disability information

If you have any disability, illness or injury which may prevent you from doing the test or sending in your sample please contact us and we can discuss a solution with you.

Getting your test results

You will receive your test results within 3 weeks of returning your completed test kit.

You will get a letter about your results, and may also be contacted by your healthcare provider.

Contact the National Bowel Screening Programme if you do not receive your result within 3 weeks.

Negative test result

If your test is negative, you do not need to do anything.

Make sure you do your bowel screening test every 2 years. Bowel cancers do not bleed all the time, so sometimes a cancer can be missed. Bowel cancer may also start to develop between screening tests.

You will be invited for another screening in 2 years, if you are still eligible.

If you develop any symptoms of bowel cancer, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Bowel cancer (internal link)

Positive test result

A positive test result does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer.

The screening test detects any traces of blood present in your poo. Small amounts of blood are commonly caused by polyps (growths), or other minor conditions like haemorrhoids (piles). These conditions can be easily treated.

Your healthcare provider will contact you to discuss your result and the next steps for you.

If you have a family history of bowel cancer, you may be asked to see your healthcare provider, or be referred to the New Zealand Familial Gastrointestinal Cancer Service.

About 7 in 10 people who have a colonoscopy as part of the National Bowel Screening Programme will have polyps.

About 7 in 100 people who have a colonoscopy as part of the programme will be found to have cancer.

Having a colonoscopy

If your test is positive, you will need a further investigation. This will usually be a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy can find bowel cancer at an early stage when it can often be successfully treated.

About colonoscopy (internal link)

If bowel cancer is found

If you are found to have bowel cancer you will be referred to a specialist. The main treatment for bowel cancer is usually surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) or radiotherapy (radiation to destroy cancer cells) may be recommended.

People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer at an early stage have a much greater chance of being successfully treated. If the cancer is detected at a later, more advanced stage, it is harder to treat.

If you are eligible for publicly funded health care, treatment for bowel cancer through the public health system is free.

Eligibility for publicly funded health services — Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (external link)

Bowel screening contact details

Contact us to find out more about the National Bowel Screening Programme.