18 Jan 2018

Screening delay will cost lives, specialist says

6:55 pm on 18 January 2018

A cancer specialist says the delay in the rollout of the national bowel screening programme is frustrating and will cost lives.

Samples of a colon biopsy to be sent to a laboratory, at Diaconesses Croix Saint-Simon Hospital, Paris, France (2009).

Samples of a colon biopsy to be sent to a laboratory. Photo: A. BENOIST / BSIP

The Health Ministry said the time frame for the $78 million programme, which was originally due to be fully rolled out by June 2020, is being extended by a year to develop the software and give some DHBs more time to recruit staff.

Cancer Society medical director Chris Jackson said the delay was very disappointing and meant many cancers would not be picked up until it was too late.

"We need to know what those bottlenecks are, when they'll be solved, and what the constraints will be," he said.

The fact some DHBs were more ready than others showed there are regional inequalities due to long-term under-funding, he said.

New Zealanders had already waited too long for national screening for bowel cancer, which kills more than 1200 New Zealanders a year, Dr Jackson said

However, a leading public health expert said the delay of the programme was not a bad thing if it leads to a better system.

Associate Professor Brian Cox, the head of Otago University's Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit, said screening programme would not actually stop anyone getting cancer.

The one-year delay was a chance to scrap screening based on faecal blood tests in favour of flexible sigmoidoscopy, a one-off test that picks up pre-cancerous conditions.

Dr Cox said it was "unfathomable" that the ministry was not introducing a prodecure that would reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by 35 percent.

A bowel cancer survivor urged people to take the initiative and ask to be tested due to the delay in the national screening programme.

Peter Death, who is in his early 60s, discovered he had bowel cancer by chance when he decided to get a full check-up from his GP before cancelling his health insurance.

The Taranaki man said the news the national bowel screening programme now would not reach his region until 2021 was disappointing, but people did not have to wait to be asked.

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