30 Sep 2012

Bowel cancer screening pilot starts to show results

10:16 am on 30 September 2012

A trial that will help decide whether national bowel cancer screening is feasible has detected more than 20 cancers.

The pilot scheme at Waitemata, in Auckland, has been fully underway for nine months.

It is offering free screening over the next four years to people aged 50 to 74 in Waitemata.

Bowel cancer is a leading cause of death from cancer in New Zealand.

The pilot scheme's clinical director, colorectal surgeon Mike Hulme Moir, told Radio New Zealand's Insight programme he'd like to see national screening, though warns it is complex and must be done correctly.

"I would genuinely hope that we do the job well enough so that when the Government and the Ministry of Health examines what we're doing they will see that this is a really beneficial thing for New Zealand.

"Having said that, there's no point rolling a programme out if we do not have the resources to do it properly."

Health Minister Tony Ryall says national screening for bowel cancer should be introduced eventually, if financial and other key constraints can be overcome.

Mr Ryall says the major constraints are money and the workforce needed to carry out colonoscopy procedures.

"Provided we can meet the constraints I don't think there's any road block to having a national programme.

"But the reason why we're having a well-funded pilot is to see whether it could work in New Zealand and whether we've got the skills in terms of the workforce to make it happen."

Mr Ryall says international experience shows screening works, but there is no point in doing it if New Zealand lacks the workforce or doesn't have the money for the scheme.

He says a decision about national screening could be made in 2015, after three years of the pilot.