Te Whatu Ora is celebrating the completion of more than 1 million self-test bowel kits being returned and processed.

The screening programme, which began in 2017, allows people to take the test in their own home, aiming to remove barriers and make it easy for people to test for bowel cancer.

Hawke’s Bay man Tito Lauvao took up the programme five years ago at the urging of his wife. The self-test returned a surprise diagnosis that may have saved his life.

“I wasn’t going to do it,” Lauvao said. “But I ended up doing it for fun.”

Two weeks later he was informed of the positive test result for bowel cancer. He remembers thanking his wife for pushing him to take it.

Lauvao was seven years old when his father passed away. He told 1News he didn’t want his kids or grandkids to have a similar experience and was glad he caught the cancer early on.

Lauvao undertook an operation to remove the cancer, which was successful, and spent the next two months recovering before heading back to work as a social worker.

“It was good I did it early. They were able to stop it spreading.”

Lauvao said the process of finding a diagnosis was easy, and he received support along the way as he found out more about his diagnosis and underwent surgery.

“If I have any advice for others, it would be do a test for your children and family.”

Lauvao recalls one of his friends who didn’t make it after receiving the same diagnosis from a self-test.

“He refused the operation and didn’t make it. People should do it for their family and children.”

More than 3300 people in Aotearoa are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from it.

But a Te Whatu Ora spokesperson said finding it early means there is a “greater chance” of successful treatment.

Eligible New Zealanders from the age of 60 to 74 are invited to take part every two years.

“The test can help detect bowel cancer early before you have any symptoms, so we want to encourage everyone who gets a bowel cancer test kit in the mail to use it. It only takes a few minutes and could save your life,” said National Bowel Screening Programme clinical lead Dr Susan Parry.

Selah Hart, Maiaka Hāpori deputy chief executive of public and population health, Te Aka Whai Ora, said work is needed to continue to remove barriers for eligible whānau to access the programme.

“We know getting these kits in people’s hands — along with the right information and support — is a crucial factor to increasing participation rates, particularly for Māori.

“It’s encouraging to see over 70,000 eligible Māori have completed the test since the programme started. We’re continuing to work with our hauora Māori partners across the motu who support eligible whānau to screen so that we can decrease the risk of late diagnosis.”

The programme is for people who have no symptoms of bowel cancer.

Te Whatu Ora said anyone who notices a change in their normal bowel habit which continues for several weeks, or notices blood in their bowel motion, or are concerned about their bowel health, should see their GP right away.