The first letters inviting people to take part were sent out yesterday.
Five years in the planning, the screening programme will result in about 51,000 eligible 60-to-74-year-olds being invited to participate over the next two years.
The DHB marked the day with a launch in the Octagon which featured a giant inflatable bowel, which people could walk through and see what their innards look like - and, more relevantly, what they would look like if a potentially deadly cancer was brewing.
Screening programme clinical lead Jason Hill said the first test results were expected back mid-May, and by then a new gastroenterology unit should be up and running to handle the anticipated rise in demand for colonoscopy.
``We are hoping for a very enthusiastic uptake. Wairarapa had a 66% response rate and I would love Southern to get over 70%,'' Dr Hill said.
``We are ready, and we have all the stuff and all the staff we need.''
Screening was the single most effective intervention available to intercept and treat a cancer which kills around 1200 New Zealanders annually.
The disease mainly kills European males - which demographically placed the southern region at the forefront of bowel cancer statistics, Dr Hill said.
``We will generate between 700 and 800 colonoscopies a year and we will identify cases of cancer which otherwise wouldn't be diagnosed.''