2 Aug 2018

Bowel cancer test kit a 'lifesaver'

3:18 pm on 2 August 2018

Older New Zealanders who are still ineligible for a free bowel cancer screening are buying their own tests, but say they shouldn't be forced to pay thousands of dollars for specialist appointments.

An illustration showing cancer in the bowel.

An illustration showing cancer in the bowel. Photo: SKU / Science Photo Library

Bowel cancer is diagnosed in more than 3000 people a year and 12,000 die from it.

The high rate of the cancer has led to the rollout of national screening, which is now in five district health boards: Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, Waitematā, Southern and Counties Manukau. Nelson Marlborough is expected to follow this month, with the others by mid-2021.

Primary health care provider, Green Cross Health, said about 1000 people a month outside the national screening centres were paying about $60 for a Bowel Screen Aotearoa test kit. Nearly 300 were sold at pharmacies nationwide during June's bowel screening awareness month.

Green Cross business and clinical services development manager Lauren Kilkolly said the blood test was being bought mainly by people over 50.

Ms Kilkolly said the test was done at home and sent to Australia, with the result sent to the person and their doctor within three weeks.

Dunedin man Michael Horgan tested positive in November but showed no symptoms so was required to pay for his own colonoscopy, confirming bowel cancer.

He was operated on and cleared, but it has returned with cancers in his liver, meaning chemo and more surgery.

But he said the test kit was a lifesaver.

"It's the best thing I ever did, better than winning Lotto."

Mr Horgan urged others to have the test.

Waikato woman Cathy* bought the test kit for herself and husband, both in their 60s.

Her GP said possible symptoms were probably to do with diet. Her second test came back positive. She's now seeking a colonoscopy from Waikato Hospital.

"If I have to, I probably can afford a colonoscopy or a colonography but there's a heck of a lot of people that can't."

Ministry of Health lead for bowel screening, John McMenamin, said those using the kit rather than waiting to be covered by national screening faced having to pay for any further tests they need.

"Because they've purchased that test outside of the National Bowel Screening Programme, the investigation would need to be done outside of the programme as well."

He urged anyone considering using the test kit to see their GP first.

"If a person has symptoms they will get a colonoscopy, and if a person has a significant family history…then they would be eligible for a colonoscopy.

"So there isn't any requirement on people to go ordering extra tests for themselves."

Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokesperson Professor Sarah Derrett said the message it was increasingly getting was that the ministry needed to manage the demand for colonoscopies.

"Bowel Cancer New Zealand would like to see a much greater emphasis on meeting the need."

Those testing positive should have a consultation with a gastroenterologist, she said.

*Not her real name.

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