What is being tested?
The screening test detects tiny amounts of blood, which you cannot normally see, in your bowel motions. It is called the Faecal Occult Blood test (FOBt). 'Occult blood' means hidden blood.
This blood loss could be due to ulcers, diverticulosis, bleeding polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, haemorrhoids (piles) or from swallwed blood due to bleeding gums or nosebleeds. However, polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed, making the FOBt a valuable screening tool, which is why we screen for blood in your bowel motions.
The FOB test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will tell you whether you need an examination of your bowel (a colonoscopy).
How is the sample collected for testing?
You will have been sent one or more FOBt 'cards'. You should collect a separate sample from three different stools, usually one a day for three days. Each stool sample should be collected into a clean container and should not be contaminated with urine or water. The slide is labelled with your name and the date; then, with an applicator stick, you apply a thin smear of stool onto each filter paper square/window contained on the card, and allow it to dry. Usually you will collect all three samples, then return all of them to your doctor/laboratory at the same time, sometimes by posting them.
The FOBt kit needs to be returned to the laboratory for analysis within two weeks (14 days) of the first sample being taken. A specifially designed prepaid envelope, which meets postal regulations, will be provided in which to return the test kit.
Anyone who does not wish to participate in the programme can decline the offer of screening by contacting the programme hub following a receipt of their invitation. If a person has not declined screening and does not return their test kit, a reminder will be sent to them around four weeks from when their kit was dispatched.
Remember: the test is simple to complete.
Results of your test kit
You should receive a results letter from the laboratory within two weeks of sending in your sample. There are three types of results you could receive.
REMEMBER! The test does not diagnose bowel cancer.
Normal Result - This means that blood was not found in your test sample. Most people (about 98 out of 100) will receive a normal result. A small number of these people will have repeated the test due to an unlcear result.
A normal result does not guarantee that you do not have or will never develop bowel cancer in the future, so being aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer is very important. You will be offered bowel cancer screening again in two years.
Unclear Result - This means there was a slight suggestion of blood in your FOB test sample. Receiving an unclear result does not mean you have cancer, just that you need to repeat the FOB test.
If you receive an unclear result, you will be asked to complete the FOB test up to two more times. This is necessary because polyps and cancers do not bleed all the time and it is important to find out whether or not there is blood in your stools. About four people out of every 100 will receive an unclear result. Most people who repeat the test will then receive a normal result.
Abnormal Result - This shows that blood may have been found in your FOB test sample - it is not a diagnosis of bowel cancer, but it does mean that you will be offered a colonoscopy.
If you receive an abnormal result, you will be offered an appointment with a specialist screening practitioner at a screening central local to you. This appointment will be made within fourteen days of the test being received. The appointment is to discuss having a more detailed examination of your bowel (a colonoscopy), to see whether or not there is a problem that may need treatment. A colonoscopy will be offered within two weeks of the first appointment. About two in every 100 people doing the test will have an abnormal result.
Predicted outcomes of screening
Bowel screening kit instruction leaflet
Nurse clinic timetables and locations
For advice on completing the kit, contact the bowel cancer screening freephone helpline: 0800 707 60 60.