About Bowel Screening

Bowel screening involves a test for bowel cancer in people who do not have a personal or family history, or any obvious symptoms of the disease. If you have symptoms or a personal or family history of bowel cancer you should discuss this with your doctor. The aim of screening is to find very early stage bowel cancer or any polyps when they are easier to treat and cure.

Bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs. The cancer can grow on the inside wall of the bowel for up to several years before spreading to other parts of the body. Often very small amounts of blood leak from these growths and pass into the bowel motion before any symptoms are noticed.

A test called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) can detect these very small amounts of blood in your bowel motion before they become visible to the naked eye. The FOBT looks for minute amounts of blood in your bowel motion, but not for bowel cancer itself.

The FOBT is a simple test that you can do at home. It involves placing small samples of a stool or the toilet water surrounding a stool on special cards and sending them to a pathology laboratory for analysis. The results are then sent back to you and your doctor.

Your FOBT result is negative if no blood is found in your samples and it is recommended that you repeat a FOBT every two years. However, this does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop, bowel cancer, since some bowel cancers do not bleed or only bleed occasionally.

In between times, if you develop any symptoms of bowel cancer, see your doctor immediately.

Your FOBT result is positive if blood is present in your samples. If blood is detected, you should contact your doctor immediately to discuss the result. The presence of blood may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel, but the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated.

Overseas studies have shown that FOBT, when performed every 2 years in people aged 50+, can help reduce the number of deaths due to bowel cancer by 15 to 33 percent as a result of early stage bowel cancer detection.

New Zealand’s National Bowel Screening Programme  

The free National Bowel Screening Programme is being implemented progressively throughout the country, starting in 2017. Hutt Valley and Wairarapa District Health Boards began screening in July 2017, with the final DHBs to join in 2020.  

How the programme works:

  • Bowel screening will be offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 years, who are eligible for publicly funded health care.
  • When it is your turn to be screened you will be sent an invitation letter, a consent form and a free bowel screening test kit.
  • The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) can detect tiny traces of blood present in a small sample of your bowel motion. This may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your bowel.
  • he screening test is simple, clean and fast. You do it by yourself at home.  Click here to watch a brief ‘how to’ tutorial video
  • You’ll receive your first invitation within two years of the programme starting in your area.

More information on the National Bowel Screening Programme is available at, or by phoning 0800 924 432.

Bowel screening is for people who don’t have any symptoms of bowel cancer.

If you have any bowel symptoms which concern you, please talk to your doctor straight away.

BowelScreen Aotearoa™ Test Kits

BowelScreen Aotearoa™ is a collaborative initiative between Bowel Cancer New Zealand, Bowel Screen Australia and Green Cross (with the support of the screening kit producers – Enterix) to introduce in NZ the opportunity to purchase bowel screening kits across the counter at Green Cross Health. The same FOBT test kit has been available for purchase in Australia for the past 10 years and has a proven record.

The kit can be purchased online for $63.50. People experiencing symptoms or who have a personal/family history of bowel cancer or polyps are advised to discuss appropriate screening for the disease with their doctor, before purchasing a kit.

The test kit is simple to use and comes with clear instructions.

It entails taking samples of the toilet water closely surrounding two separate bowel motions and painting the water onto collection pads, using brushes supplied in the kit. The kit is then posted to Australia for processing in a reply paid envelope, along with the person’s details and details of their New Zealand GP. Once the test is processed the results will be sent to both the person and their GP.

A positive result from bowel screening test does not confirm the presence of bowel cancer, but it does indicate the presence of blood that may be invisible to the naked eye in your bowel movement. This may be an early warning sign. You should speak to your doctor who will initiate further investigation which may include a colonoscopy or a CT colonography.

A negative result means there is no blood found in your samples, and it is recommended that you repeat a FOBT every two years. However, this does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop bowel cancer, since some bowel cancers do not bleed or only bleed occasionally.

In between times, if you develop any symptoms of bowel cancer, see your doctor immediately.

Although other types of over the counter bowel screening tests may be available, BowelScreen Aotearoa kits are preferred because the results are always shared with your nominated family doctor. These kits meet very high quality standards and are easy to use in the privacy of your own home.

Order  a Bowelscreen™ Aotearoa  test kit from Unichem & Life pharmacies. NZ  currently does not have a government-funded nationwide bowel screening programme.

All NZers aged 50+ who do not have symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer are encouraged to undertake bowel cancer screening. Order a Bowelscreen Aotearoa™  test kit today from Unichem & Life pharmacy by accessing there on line ordering site. You can also call 0800 849 104 for any queries related to the kits or results process.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand does not receive any financial benefit or otherwise from the BowelScreen Aotearoa™ test kit initiative.


Find out how to purchase your kit here.

Also download the Bowel Cancer Screening Pathway