Skip to content

Bowel Cancer Screening can help save lives

28 May 2024

Bowel Screening Test Kits

nib offers eligible members early access to at home bowel screening test

Each year, more than 1,200 Kiwis die from bowel cancer and over 3,000 are diagnosed with it. It’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths in New Zealand and we have one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.

Bowel cancer gets its ‘silent killer’ status because it often goes undiagnosed, or is detected at a very late stage due to lack of symptoms. nib’s 2024 Health Check research found that of those Kiwi’s surveyed, 37% were not necessarily up to date on their screening or have never been screened even when they are eligible for free bowel cancer screenings.

Getting screened early is the key

More than 75% of bowel cancer cases are treatable and curable if detected early. That’s why bowel cancer screening kits are so important, as they could help catch Bowel Cancer in its early stages. But for some, the thought of a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) may be daunting. Free, at-home bowel cancer screening kits offer a quick, clean and simple way to detect potential issues early, in the comfort of your own home.

For those aged between 60 and 74 (50 and 74 for Māori and Pacific people) who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare, the government’s National Bowel Screening Programme offers free faecal immunochemical tests (FITs) which can be completed at home.

But with rates of bowel cancer increasing among younger Kiwis – and doctors urging earlier screenings, we’re empowering more people to proactively look after their health with quick and easy bowel screenings for our eligible members.

nib has partnered with MercyAscot to deliver a Bowel Screening Programme available to eligible nib members aged 50 to 75 (45 and 75 for Māori and Pacific People) with nib Hospital Cover. Through our Bowel Screening Health Management Program, eligible members can receive free at-home test kits earlier than the National Bowel Screening Programme and one-on-one support from a nib Wellness Coach if they require treatment.

nib health insurance gives you access to private healthcare giving you peace of mind in the event the unforeseen does happen. For a personalised quote, visit the nib Private Hospital health insurance page here.

Signs to watch out for

Anyone can get bowel cancer, but when symptoms aren’t always forthcoming, it can be hard to know whether you’re at higher-risk. Here are some factors to be mindful of:

1. Your age

In New Zealand, 90% of people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are older than 50, so it’s important to be aware of the heightened risk as you age.

While age plays a significant role in bowel cancer rates, don’t let it be the defining factor. If you have concerns or are experiencing any of the common symptoms which include blood in your stools, a change in bowel motions or habits lasting longer than 6 weeks, weight loss for no obvious reason, tiredness, or severe, persistent or occasional abdominal pain, it’s best to speak with your GP immediately.

2. Your family history and genetics

Have a close family member, such as parents, siblings or children who have been diagnosed, increases your risk of developing bowel cancer – and if that close family member was under 55 at the time of their disgnoses, this can almost double your risk. Extended blood relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews) with the condition can also put you at higher risk, however, there’s no apparent link with distant relatives - unless you have a family history of inheriting certain rare bowel cancer syndromes or genetic mutations.

3. Your lifestyle factors and other diseases

There are lifestyle risk-factors and other common medical conditions that can influence your chance of developing bowel cancer. These include:

  • Lifestyle factors: such as smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, eating a lot of red or processed meats and being overweight or obese.

  • Type 2 Diabetes: studies show that people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer. While this connection is still being studied, there are a number of lifestyle factors that the two diseases share, which could contribute to this.

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD): more than 70,000 Kiwis are thought to be impacted by IBD. Symptoms of IBD can often be similar to bowel cancer.

What can you do about it?

While not all risks are avoidable, proactive care of your health and addressing the above lifestyle factors can be an effective way to reduce your risks.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand recommends a diet high in fibre, and points to the Mediterranean Diet as a healthy eating plan to follow. It typically has plenty of plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans and grains which can all help to regulate bowel movements and be effective in helping to lower your risk of bowel cancer. For more information on symptoms and advice, visit: or click here to find out more about our Bowel Screening Programme for eligible nib members.