The faecal occult blood (FOB) test
The faecal occult blood (FOB) test is a way of detecting tiny amounts of 'hidden' blood in your bowel motions.
Bowel cancers and polyps can sometimes bleed, which is why screening looks for blood in your bowel. Occult blood means blood that is not visible to the eye.
The test doesn’t tell you if you have bowel cancer, or a polyp, but if you have blood in your bowel motions you may be offered further tests, such as a colonoscopy, to find out the cause of the bleeding.
If you are sent an FOB test kit and you aren’t sure whether you should do the test or not, you should call the freephone helpline number, which is on the letter that comes with the test.
You don’t have to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme. If you don’t want to take part, you can simply choose not to complete and return the FOB test kit. Or you can contact the freephone number on the letter to let the programme know that you don’t want to participate.
After you've received a letter inviting you to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme, you'll be sent an FOB test kit and instructions, which you use in the privacy of your own home. In Scotland, you'll be sent the letter at the same time as the kit.
The kit includes:
six cardboard sticks to collect the samples
an orange, or red and white, test card
a prepaid hygienic envelope to return the samples.
There are three sections of the test for three separate bowel motions.
Before collecting each bowel motion, it's a good idea to get everything ready. You will need to have:
two of the cardboard sticks
the orange, or red and white, test card.
Write the date on the first flap on the test card, then peel back the flap. Underneath you will see two windows – one for each sample of your bowel motion.
Collecting your samples
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It’s important that the bowel motion you collect your sample from has not been in the toilet bowl, as this can affect the result of the test. You can collect the bowel motion in different ways. You can use a clean disposable plastic container, such as a cleaned ice cream tub, or folded toilet paper. Alternatively, you can collect it on a sheet of newspaper, which you can place across the toilet pan and secure under the rim of the toilet seat. Make sure the newspaper doesn’t touch the water in the toilet.
Once you’ve collected your bowel motion, use one of the cardboard sticks to take a small piece. Spread it thinly over the first window on the test card. Use the second cardboard stick to collect a sample from a different area of your bowel motion. Spread it thinly over the second window.
Once you’ve completed both windows, seal the flap on the test card. Wipe the cardboard sticks with toilet paper, wrap them up and throw them away in an outside bin. Don’t flush them down the toilet.
The second and third samples are collected in the same way, using the two windows under flap two and then flap three. All three samples need to be taken from three different bowel motions, but they don’t have to be collected from three in a row. It's important that all the samples are collected and the kit returned within 14 days of the first sample.
Once you have all three samples you can send the kit to be tested using the prepaid hygienic envelope.
It’s very important that you follow the instructions carefully - particularly paying attention to the diet and drug advice given in the kit.
If you have any questions about the sample collection, or if you need a new test kit to start again, you can call the freephone helpline number, which is printed on the kit instructions.
If you don’t return the test kit, you’ll get a reminder after about four weeks. If you’ve decided not to participate in the screening programme, you can either ignore the reminder or contact the helpline number to tell them you won’t be sending your kit back.