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How is Bowel Cancer Tested For?

Bowel Cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK. When caught and treated early, approximately 92% of people will survive the disease for five years or more. Compare this to the 10% of people who survive when treated at the latest stage and the importance of early diagnosis becomes shockingly clear. But how exactly is bowel cancer tested for?


The aim of screening is to detect rectal or colon cancer at the earliest possible stage so that any treatment will have the best chance of success. Alongside testing for traces of blood in the patient’s stool, screening can also identify polyps. These are non-cancerous growths which can develop into cancer later in life. By removing them, the risk of bowel cancer is significantly reduced. Put simply, screening saves lives.

Home Testing

The main type of bowel cancer screening is an at-home testing kit called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). These collect a stool sample to be sent back to a lab and tested for traces of blood. If you’re over 60 and registered with a GP, you should be sent an at home testing kit every two years. There are a range of accurate and easy-to-use home testing kits available, so if you’re worried about bowel cancer, regardless of age or family history, get tested as soon as possible.

Test Results

After collecting your stool sample and sending it to the lab, you should receive either one of two results:

No further tests required - This means that no or a negligible amount of blood was detected in the stool sample, and no further action needs to be taken until your next screening. Approximately 98% people will require no further tests.

Further tests required - This means that blood was detected in the sample, and though you may not necessarily have bowel cancer, you should contact a doctor as soon as possible. They may then carry out a colonoscopy, which involves a camera on the end of a thin tube being passed through your bottom to look for signs of the disease in the bowel.

Screening Risks & Benefits

No screening is ever 100% accurate. Cancer can be missed if there was no bleeding when the test was taken. Similarly, a false positive result can be given, resulting in worry and uncomfortable procedures such as a colonoscopy. However, there is no denying that taking part in regular screening not only greatly lowers your risk of dying from bowel cancer, but also reduces your chances of getting the disease entirely.

Keywords: bowel cancer, rectal cancer, bowel cancer treatment, bowel cancer diagnosis

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