What is health screening and who needs it?

Health screening refers to tests that can be done to check for a variety of diseases, such as cancers. There are two stages to health screening: the first tests whether you have an increased chance of getting a particular disease; the next stage is for people who have tested positively and gives you information about whether you actually have the disease.  

People who are diagnosed early and get treatment early have a much better chance of overcoming the disease.

It's important to know that all screening has a risk of producing a false positive (you test positive for a disease when you don't actually have it) or false negative (you test negative for a disease when you actually do have it).

Screening for various diseases is aimed at different demographics depending on a number of factors including their age, sex and family medical history. Some types of screening are funded by the government and other types are not. Read on to find out more.

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What kinds of health screening are government funded?

Funded health screening programmes are provided by the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit.

They provide screening programmes for:

Other types of health screening are not government funded e.g. for prostate cancer, skin cancer, osteoporosis.

Ask your GP if you have any health concerns that might require screening.

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Who can provide screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)?

If you suspect you have an STI you should get a sexual health check from your doctor or at your local sexual health service or family planning clinic. Visiting a family planning clinic is free if you are under 22 years of age, and sexual health clinics provide free sexual health checks.

More information about sexual health checks is on the Ministry of Health's HealthEd website.

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How do I get screened for breast cancer?

BreastScreen Aotearoa is a national breast-screening programme that aims to reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer. They provide free screening to any woman aged 45-69 (with a few exceptions).

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand women. Over 600 women die from it each year and as we get older, our risk increases. But the earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances of surviving.  Screening won’t stop you from getting breast cancer, but it could reduce your risk of dying from it. 

You can join the screening programme by calling 0800 270 200, registering online or being referred by your GP or health provider.
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What is the National Cervical Screening Programme?

The cervical screening programme aims to find an abnormal changes to the cervix, before they can develop into cancer. Having cervical smears can reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer by 90 percent. The cost of a smear test is what you would normally pay to see your GP or nurse.

Any woman between the ages of 20 and 70 years who requests a cervical smear test is automatically enrolled in the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP). This means that your details and screening history are recorded on a nationwide register. The information recorded allows the National Screening Unit to monitor your screening history and let you know when you are due for another test or if you need a follow-up test (e.g. due to an abnormal test).

You don’t have to enrol in the NCSP - at any time you can choose not to take part in the programme. If you choose to withdraw none of your information is recorded and you will be responsible for ensuring you have regular checks and get the right follow-ups if they are needed.

If you want to know your rights regarding your health information and privacy, visit our Health Information Privacy Code page.

You can read more about this on the National Screening Unit website.

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Should I get my moles checked?

People who have a history of sunburn, who have spent a lot of time in the sun (especially if they have fair skin and/or a lot of moles) or who have a family history of melanoma, are at increased risk of getting melanoma.

Having your skin checked regularly is a way of screening for melanoma (one of three types of skin cancer). This involves checking for the appearance of new moles or freckles, or changes in size, shape or colour of existing moles or freckles.

You can check your skin yourself (you’ll need some mirrors or a likeminded friend), visit one of the many clinics which specialise in mole checks, or ask your GP to check your moles or freckles.

If you do notice any changes to your moles or freckles, or find an unusual-looking spot, see your GP. They can examine your skin or refer you to a specialist.

More information about checking your skin is on the Cancer Society information sheet.

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Is there a test to screen for bowel cancer?

If you live in the Waitemata District Health Board region and are aged between 50 and 74 years, you may be eligible to participate in a bowel screen pilot programme. The pilot began in 2011 and ends in 2015.

Bowel cancer can occur at any age but is most likely to affect people aged over 50 years. If you are in this age group and wish to be tested but can’t enrol in the pilot, you might be able to buy a test kit at your local pharmacy. However it’s a good idea to talk to your GP first to discuss whether they would be appropriate for you.

More about bowel cancer screening is on the Ministry of Health website.

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How do I get screened for prostate cancer?

Although prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in New Zealand men, there is no national screening programme in New Zealand for prostate cancer.

One reason for this is that the test used can cause harm, especially in the 75+ age group. You should ask your doctor about early screening if you are concerned. They can talk to you about your risk factors for the disease, and whether the benefits of being tested outweigh the risks.  

If you have any symptoms that you are worried about, you should see your doctor right away.

You can find out more about prostate cancer screening, and cancer screening in general, on the New Zealand Cancer Society website.