Bowel screening alerts entire family to a serious health issue

Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 14:53

Dr Susan Parry, Clinical Lead of the National Bowel Screening Programme, says she is always hugely proud when someone tells her that they or a loved one have benefitted from bowel screening. However, she was recently ‘blown away’ when the experience of one participant led to an entire family being potentially spared the effects of a rare and devastating bowel cancer syndrome.

The story started with a casual chat with her neighbour, whilst on holiday at the beach. ‘He told me over the fence that his mother, who lived in another part of the country, was very grateful for the bowel screening programme because a routine screen had detected an abnormality and that she was booked in for surgery,’ recalls Susan.

‘I told him I was glad to hear the programme had detected the cancer and wished his mum well for the surgery.’ But Susan says, that wasn’t the end of the story.

‘I saw him on the beach a little later and he said the surgery had gone well but that the surgeon had found 33 polyps (growths in the bowel that can become cancerous). Immediately the alarm bells went off. I told him that wasn’t normal and would need investigating.’

This meant a referral to the New Zealand Familial Gastrointestinal Cancer Service, of which Dr Parry is also lead medical advisor. The service is funded by the Ministry of Health to detect, treat and monitor individuals and families who have inherited cancer syndromes of the gastrointestinal tract.

Susan took on the case and her investigations determined that the woman likely had a rare ‘bowel polyposis’ syndrome that can run in families. There was a 50 percent chance that her children and brothers and sisters had inherited the condition.

As a result of the intervention, genetic testing is being carried out and family members have been advised to have a colonoscopy, available within the public hospital system. Dr Parry says the presence of so many polyps in a relative means, even if a genetic link isn’t found, family members will be carefully monitored from now on.

‘This is a wonderful example of two cancer preventative services working together to impact positively on so many lives. It’s also a total endorsement of the far-reaching benefits of our National Bowel Screening Programme.’

In the three years it has been running, the National Bowel Screening Programme, being rolled out across the country, has undertaken around 254,000 screening tests and detected cancer in more than 660 people. More about the programme can be found on the Time to Screen website.

Page last updated: 05 August 2020