Bowel Screening

The instructions for using the FOBt kit

People are sent a Faecal Occult Blood test (FOBt) kit one week after the letter inviting them to take part in screening. The kit comes with full instructions, cardboard sticks with which to collect the stool samples and a freepost envelope in which to return the kit for analysis at the programme “hub” laboratory (see 'The pilot and the programme since then').

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Several people told us about their experiences of taking part in screening:

  • Six tiny samples from three separate bowel motions are collected (2 from each bowel movement).
  • Bowel motions must be caught before they reach the water or touch the toilet bowl.
  • There are three flaps on the test kit, each with two 'windows' underneath. Samples are smeared onto the test kit windows (these used to be small circles but are now small rectangles) with the cardboard sticks provided.
  • The kit must be returned to the hub for testing within 14 days of the first sample being taken.

Almost all the people we talked to found the instructions that came with the test kit very clear, saying they were 'very precise' or 'told you exactly what to do'. One man said they were 'spot on' and that he could not fault them in any way.

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A few people thought the instructions were a little 'ambiguous' or could be 'misunderstood'. Some were not sure how much of their stool (faeces) they had to smear onto the small windows on the card. One man thought that it might be easier if the windows (the small circles or rectangles) were a bit deeper.   

One woman wrongly thought she had to use samples from alternate days, and another woman thought she had to use samples on consecutive days (see 'Why some were reluctant or did not take part'). In fact, samples can be taken at any time within 14 days, as long as three different stools are used.

One woman felt confused when she opened the test kit but when she looked at the instructions everything became clear.

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During the first part of the pilot programme people were asked to exclude certain foods from their diet while they were collecting their stool samples. One woman, for example, was asked to repeat the test taking care to exclude red meat and certain vegetables.

Diet does not affect the test and the current NHS bowel cancer screening programme requires no dietary restrictions.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2016.

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