What is the bowel cancer screening test?

Testing for bowel cancer uses a simple, at-home test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test looks for traces of blood in poo which are invisible and could be a sign of bowel cancer.  

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites you to do the test every two years until you turn 74. Your test will arrive at the address listed on your Medicare card. Visit Services Australia to make sure your details are up-to-date. Usually, you will get your invitation for the bowel screening test on or around your birthday, but it can arrive up to six months later.

If you have already received your faecal occult blood test, sign up for reminders to help you get your screening done.

Why do the test now?

It is important to do your test right away. Do not put it away for later or ignore it. Place the bowel screening kit in sight of your toilet as a reminder to take the test next time you go. This could save your life. 

In hotter parts of Australia, it is important that you do your test as soon as possible. Hot weather can affect the accuracy of bowel cancer screening tests. That's why, in hotter parts of Australia, the bowel cancer screening kit is sent in the cooler months. Please test and return your kit while these conditions last.

How does the test work?

This life saving process is quick, simple and completed at home.  

You need to take a small sample from two separate bowel movements. This means you’ll need to go to the toilet twice to poo and take a sample each time. Collect the two samples as close together as you can. 

The mail out kit has everything you need to do the test in your home, including: 

  • detailed instructions 
  • flushable toilet liner 
  • collection tube and stick 
  • sanitary zip lock bag 
  • reply-paid envelope  

A pathology laboratory will then analyse your sample and check for blood in your poo.

How Do I Complete the Bowel Screening Test | Cancer Council

Follow these four simple steps

Your free test kit contains...

Bowel Cancer free test kit.

Step 1 – Prepare    

1. Complete your ‘Participant Details Form’.

Bowel cancer test step 1 form


2. Write your details on one of the collection tubes.

Bowel cancer test step 1 collection tube

3. Leave the test kit in the bathroom so you remember to do the test.

Bowel cancer test step 1 toilet

Step 2 – Collect  

4. Do a wee and flush the toilet, then put the flushable paper toilet liner in the toilet bowl.

Bowel cancer test step 2 toilet

5. Poo onto the paper.

Bowel cancer test step 2 poo on paper

6. Open the tube and scrape the tip of the stick into the poo to get a tiny sample. A sample that’s smaller than a grain of rice is OK.

Bowel cancer test step 2 sample

7. Put the stick back into the collection tube and click the lid shut. Shake the tube up and down. 

Bowel cancer test step 2 shut and shake

Step 3 – Store and repeat  

8. Place the tube into the ziplock bag and store the sample in the fridge. This is a completely hygienic process because your sample is airtight.

Bowel cancer test step 3

9. Repeat steps 1-3 with the second collection tube when you next do a poo. 

Step 4 – Send  

10. Put your participant details form and your two collection tubes (in the sealed zip lock bag) into the reply-paid envelope. Post the envelope within 24 hours if you can.  

Bowel cancer test step 4

Your samples will be sent to a laboratory for testing and your results will be mailed to you in around two weeks. If blood is detected, your GP is likely to refer you for a colonoscopy.   

A positive test result does not mean you have cancer. It means that blood has been detected and further tests are needed. If cancer is detected with further testing, there’s a higher chance of it being treated successfully because this test helps find it early.

What do my test results mean?

If your test results are positive, this means there is blood in your sample. About one in 14 people will have a positive FOBT result. A positive result doesn’t mean that you have bowel cancer. It means you need to do more tests to check for bowel cancer.   

Bleeding may be caused by several conditions. Including polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation, and may not mean you have cancer.    

Blood in your poo does need to be investigated to make sure you’re healthy. If your test result is positive, contact a GP to discuss your results and if you need more tests.  

A negative test result means there is no blood in your poo samples.  This doesn’t mean that you do not have, or won't get, bowel cancer in the future. If you have a negative result, you still need to test again in two years.  

If you’re confused, worried or have more questions, speak to a GP.