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Early screening in bowel cancer saves lives

Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014
Nicki Sumicz
Sarah Argyle
SPEAKING OUT: Nicki Sumicz is speaking out the importance of bowel screening.

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Nicki Sumicz wants to tell others how to "dodge a bullet".

Early detection of bowel cancer saved her life and the Devonport resident wants to help others by telling her story.

Bowel cancer isn't high profile enough because people don't like talking about it, Sumicz says.

Her roller-coaster ride started 18 months ago when an unexpected package arrived in the mail. It was a screening kit from Waitemata District Health Board's free bowel screening programme.

A week after sending off her kit 52-year-old Sumicz got a phone call from her GP confirming a positive trace of cancer.

"I had to go for a colonoscopy but didn't think twice because sometimes with screening programmes there can be false positives. Lo and behold the surgeon came back to me and said I had bowel cancer. It really knocked me down.

"I was aghast."

The mother of two says bowel cancer isn't something she had ever contemplated.

"We have no family history and I had no symptoms at all. I didn't even know anything about bowel cancer, even though it is the most prevalent cancer as far as death by cancer.

"This test quite possibly saved my life as my bowel cancer was found before it had the chance to spread. The test is clean, non-invasive and you don't have to touch anything," she says.

Sumicz is shocked there has only been a 60 per cent uptake of the screening programme. The four-year pilot bowel screening programme is now in its third year.

Results will be used to decide if bowel screening could be rolled out nationally.

Ministry of Health results for the first 21 months (from January 2012 to September 2013) show bowel cancer was found in 129 people who completed a test kit. The programme's clinical director Mike Hulme-Moir says more than 90 per cent of patients are cured if bowel cancer is found early.

"The great news is that the bowel screening programme is finding cancers at an early stage when they are just beginning to grow and before they have had the chance to spread," he says.

Approximately 60 per cent of the cancers we are seeing through the bowel screening programme are stage one and two, which means a much higher chance of being cured by surgery alone."

Bowel cancer can be present with few or even no warning signs or symptoms. Symptoms may include blood in your bowel motion or changes in your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continue for several weeks, for example: diarrhoea, constipation or feeling your bowel doesn't empty completely. Anyone with those symptoms should see their doctor.

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If you are between 50 and 74 and live in the Waitemata District Health Board area you should have been invited to join the free screening programme.


■ Only a 60 per cent uptake of the screening programme

■ First 21 months show bowel cancer was found in 129 people who completed a test kit

■ 90 per cent of patients are cured if bowel cancer is found early

■ Email info@bowelscreening or phone 0800 924 432 for information. 

- North Shore Times

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