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Faecal occult blood

What is a faecal occult blood test?

This is a test to detect small amounts of blood in your bowel motions. The aim is to detect bleeding that is not visible to the naked eye. The test doesn't directly diagnose bowel cancer, but is useful to determine who should definitely undergo a screening colonoscopy.

What is the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?

The Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to try and reduce the number of deaths due to bowel cancer via early detection and treatment. The program is currently inviting people turning 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 72 or 74 years of age to participate.

What does the test involve?

The test involves dipping the tip of a sampling stick into your poo. Full instructions are provided within the kit. Your GP may perform another form of faecal occult blood test that is separate to the Government program.

If my result is positive does this mean I have bowel cancer?

No. A positive results merely indicates the presence of blood in the bowel motion.  However it does mean you should have a colonoscopy to access the bowel to check for any polyps, growths, cancer or other abnormalities that caused the blood to be present. Around 7% of people who participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program have a positive test result. Of those who go on to have a colonoscopy, 1 in 11 people are then found to have an advanced adenoma (polyp) and 1 in 25 were diagnosed with a confirmed or suspected cancer.

Should I perform the test if I have visible bleeding?

Usually no. The test will only confirm what you already know. You should talk to your GP about your rectal bleeding. They will determine whether a direct referral to a specialist for a colonoscopy is required. Although haemorrhoids are a common cause of bleeding, the presence of haemorrhoids doesn't mean they are the cause. Interrogation of the bowel is generally recommended before attributing rectal bleeding to haemorrhoids.