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How to screen for bowel cancer

The bowel cancer screening test, known as the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), is a simple test that you do at home before sending samples to a pathology laboratory for analysis.

What does the test do?

An FOBT can detect small amounts of blood in the bowel motion (faeces or poo). The FOBT looks for blood in the bowel motion, but not for bowel cancer itself.

Blood in your bowel motion may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation of the bowel. The actual cause of bleeding needs to be further investigated.

If your result is positive you will be asked to contact your doctor, who may recommend further tests. This is usually a colonoscopy to help identify the cause of bleeding.

What is the process?

The FOBT test is quick, easy, painless and can be done in the privacy of your own home.

The bowel cancer screening kit includes an instruction sheet, and you should read this carefully before doing the test.

Some key points when collecting your test sample:

  • Take samples from two separate bowel motions - this increases the chances of detecting tiny amounts of blood in your bowel motion.
  • Each sample should be collected as close together as possible - no more than two or three days apart.
  • Pop the samples into the reply paid envelope supplied in your kit - post it back as soon as possible.
  • Store samples in the fridge prior to posting - containers provided to place the sample in make sure there will be no contamination of your food. Don't freeze the samples.

Taking the samples as close together as you can, storing them correctly and returning them quickly for analysis will ensure that your result is as accurate as possible. 

If it takes longer than 14 days from when you take the first sample to when your samples reach the pathology laboratory, you will be sent another kit to complete.

Find more answers to your questions about bowel screening from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.