Understanding your FOBT results
Learn more about your faecal occult blood test
Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) can develop without early warning signs or symptoms. The cancer can grow inside the bowel for many years before it is detected. Often, small amounts of blood can leak from these growths and pass into bowel motions.
What is a faecal occult blood test?
A faecal occult blood test (FOBT) can detect minimal amounts of blood in your bowel motions.
The test involves taking samples from two or three bowel motions using a test kit. These are analysed at a pathology laboratory, and if blood is detected, further tests may be required.
The primary type of FOBT in Australia is immunochemical or iFOBT. Test kits are sent out to Australians aged 50-74 as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. They can also be purchased at pharmacies. Immunochemical tests do not require changes to diet or medication, and samples are only taken from two separate bowel motions.
Although FOBT is not the most accurate diagnostic test for bowel cancer, it is currently the most well-researched screening test, and cheapest and most acceptable test available. An FOBT is also non-invasive, compared to colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy.
Learn more about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program on our website.
Can anyone have the FOBT?
If you’re between the age of 50 and 74, you will receive a free bowel screening test every two years. If you have lost or didn’t receive a kit, you can re-order one here. If you are under the age of 50 and have concerns about bowel cancer, see your GP immediately.
We don't know the exact cause of bowel cancer, but research shows that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop the disease. Some things that can increase your risk of bowel cancer include:
- family history
- inflammatory bowel disease
- poor diet
- physical inactivity
You can reduce your bowel cancer risk by:
- quitting smoking
- being active
- enjoying a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- limiting red and processed meats
- limiting alcohol
- maintaining a healthy body weight
If you are at increased risk, discuss screening options with your doctor.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a population-based screening program for bowel cancer.
The National Bowel Screening Program, using FOBT, is offered free to all Australians aged 50-74 every two years. Screening kits usually arrive within six months of your birthday.
A test kit is mailed to people eligible for the program. Samples are collected in the privacy of your home and sent to a pathologist for analysis. Results are sent to you and your GP. If the FOBT is positive, further tests are needed.
Cancer Council urges all eligible Australians to participate.
Where can I get an FOBT?
Cancer Council recommends all Australians aged 50 and over screen for bowel cancer with an FOBT every two years.
If you are not eligible for a free test under the national screening program, you can still be tested. Contact your GP to discuss options. Your GP can request an FOBT, which is eligible for a Medicare benefit. Most pathology practices bulk bill for this test.
- Some pharmacies have FOBT kits available for purchase over the counter.
- Some pathology services or health organisations provide online options for purchasing a kit.
You should discuss the use of FOBT kits with your GP before purchasing a kit.
For more information call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
What do my test results mean?
If your FOBT results are positive, this means blood has been detected in your sample. About one in 14 people will have a positive FOBT result.
Bleeding may be caused by a number of conditions, including polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation, and may not necessarily be cancer related. However, the bleeding needs to be investigated and if blood is detected, you should contact your doctor to discuss the results and what further tests will be required.
A negative test result means that no blood has been detected in the samples provided. This does not mean that you do not have or won't develop bowel cancer in the future. If you have a negative result you should test again in two years.
Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
For more information about Bowel cancer
Other useful websites
Information Line 1800 118 868
Visit bowelcancer.org.au to find out more