A-Z

Bowel Screening

Getting a 'normal' result of a FOBt by post

People should receive a letter giving them the result of their Faecal Occult Blood test within two weeks. Results may be normal, unclear or abnormal.

 

Andrea Giles, specialist screening practitioner, explains what it means to have a normal result.

Andrea Giles, specialist screening practitioner, explains what it means to have a normal result.

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What do the results of my bowel cancer screening FOB kit mean?

A normal result means that no hidden blood was found in your bowel motion. This means that no further investigation is required at this time. You will automatically be sent another FOB kit in two years time, unless you are aged over 70, where you will need to request a kit to remain within the bowel cancer screening programme.

Having done the test some people worried until they had their results. Most people who take part in the programme receive a normal result and those that we talked to said they felt a sense of relief when they heard that all was well. One woman said she felt 'elated'.

 

She had a normal result in 2002 and 2004. She felt a sense of relief.

She had a normal result in 2002 and 2004. She felt a sense of relief.

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
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And how long did you have to get, wait for the result?

Oh about two weeks I think.

And how did you get the result?

It came through the post.

And how did you feel when you first picked up the letter?

Oh that's good, I suppose a little bit of relief there obviously to know that everything is okay.

And then you were invited to do it again two years later.

Two years yeah, yeah.

2004.

Yes, yeah went through the same procedure, everything the same and sent it back and the letter back saying everything was okay.

That's good and do you expect to do it again in a few years?

Well yes I don't mind. It helps doesn't it, it's all good for the research and it's good for me as well.

Do you think that was the best way of getting the results through the post or would you have liked to have been given the results face to face?

Well if it was anything serious it would obviously have been face to face wouldn't it?
 

 

She sighed with relief when she read that her result was normal.

She sighed with relief when she read that her result was normal.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Okay and then can you describe how you felt when you got the letter saying everything was alright?

When the letter came back to say everything was alright I felt relieved and I thought well all that fuss was for nothing, you know I made all, in my mind I was making all this fuss about having it done. I must admit I did worry, until that envelope came back it is on the back of your mind, is everything okay, because I mean you, you can't actually see the blood in your motion, until it's under that microscope you wouldn't know. You don't look at it and see the blood in, really see the blood in your motions. I'm not actually sure how they do it, they must have some way of doing it. But they, they know. And but once that letter comes through the door and it tell you you're okay you sort of sigh of relief.

A woman who had read that results might take up to two weeks said she initially felt alarmed when her husband's results arrived after only two days. She assumed the worst. Her own results arrived the next day. She was relieved when she read that their results were normal and on reflection she thought the screening service was very efficient. 

 

Her husband's results took two days and hers arrived after three days. She was initially alarmed...

Her husband's results took two days and hers arrived after three days. She was initially alarmed...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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And then you sent if off by post?

Yes by post and it was back, I think my husband's came back in two days and because it came back so quickly I thought oh no I bet there's something wrong, but it was all clear. Then mine took a day longer so when mine didn't come back in the two days I thought oh definitely something wrong then, mine hasn't come back. But it came on the third day and it was fine.

That's very quick.

Very quick indeed, I was impressed.

Three days after you sent it.

Yes because they did say it could be two or three weeks I think it said on the information it could take. So when it came back so quickly that first one I just assumed the worst. But they were just being very efficient, it was excellent.

Do you think that's the best way to get results, through the post, or would you rather you got results in a different sort of way?

Yes I think that was fine coming through in the post like that. I wouldn't have liked to have to go to a surgery or hospital for the results because I think you, you get in more of a state than just a letter coming through the post.

Almost all those who received a normal result thought it was good to get their results through the post (though they said they were not sure how they might feel about getting results by post if they had an abnormal result). However, one woman thought it might be nice to receive results from a doctor or someone else face to face A man pointed out that it was quicker to get results by post and a woman said that she would not have wanted to see someone about her results because she would have got 'in a state' waiting for the appointment. 

 

Thinks that receiving results through the post is 'as good a way as any'.

Thinks that receiving results through the post is 'as good a way as any'.

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
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And you got the results through the post, do you think that's the best way to get the results?

I think it's as good a way as any. I mean I think if you got a phone call, phone calls are not always a convenient time for you to, to receive the call.

I mean you know you may, they can be okay and then other times you think, 'Oh that's not a very good call time to call.' If you receive it in the post, generally of course you've got an idea what it is, so you decide for yourself when you can, when you're going to open it, or even if you don't open it [laughs].

When people get the letter with the results they are also given a list of the symptoms of bowel cancer in order to promote awareness. Screening is done every two years (for those aged 60-74) and bowel cancer might develop between screening rounds. Many people thought it was a good idea to receive this list of symptoms, and although a man said that the information about symptoms had not affected his behaviour, others said that the detailed list of symptoms had affected how they inspected their motions. A woman said that the information encouraged her to include more fruit in her diet.

 

The letter with the results included a list of the symptoms of bowel cancer but it did not affect...

The letter with the results included a list of the symptoms of bowel cancer but it did not affect...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
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I think the letter tells you about the basic symptoms of bowel cancer, did you make a note of those and has that changed how you look at your stools or look at your motions at all?

No.

Or has it alerted you to the fact that you must be aware of other, of certain things for the future?

No I don't think so. I certainly don't sort of spend time thinking about it and certainly when I go to the toilet, no, I don't sort of, 'Oh well I must have a look at that', you know, 'that looks a bit different today than it did last week', no. And I don't think I'm the sort of person that sort of worries about that too much anyway [laughs].

 

The letter giving her the results reminded her to look out for symptoms of bowel cancer, such as...

The letter giving her the results reminded her to look out for symptoms of bowel cancer, such as...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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I think the letter also tells you about the symptoms of bowel cancer and reminds you'

Yes it, it was very good because it said although on this occasion, well it didn't say although, but it makes you think that just because on this occasion everything was okay it's, it doesn't mean that you don't look out for any other signs or symptoms and it gives you a list of what the symptoms could be. So you don't sit back and think, 'Oh I've done the test, I'm okay'.

There's still more things that you can look for.

Can you remember what sort of things those would be?

The main one I think was any blood in a motion and significant patterns, changes in motions, that kind of thing.

And did that letter affect how you think about what happens in the toilet on a day to day basis?

No not really, no because [laughs] I, I usually have very regular sort of toilet habits and it, no it hasn't made any made any difference I, well I suppose in a way I always make sure that there's no blood, that's the thing, but I don't very often have a change of pattern unless I'm not very well.

So it's made you more aware.

A bit more aware yes.

 

The letter with the list of symptoms influenced her and made her look at her motions more carefully.

The letter with the list of symptoms influenced her and made her look at her motions more carefully.

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
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And the letter that came saying that everything was normal, I think in that letter it gives you again the symptoms of bowel cancer, what you should look out for.

It does.

Does that letter affect how you now look at your faeces?

It did, it did, it said to keep an eye on things, make sure you don't get constipated or you don't get diarrhoea, if it's, if there's any blood in it, if it looks a bit black to go to your doctor.

So do you think those instructions with the letter influenced you? 

I do think they're good, I do yes.

One man was told that his Faecal Occult Blood test result was normal, but having read about the symptoms of bowel cancer he checked his motions regularly and noticed blood. After six months he went to his GP and was eventually diagnosed with bowel cancer.

 

The letter said that the result of his test was normal. Six months later he re-read the list of...

The letter said that the result of his test was normal. Six months later he re-read the list of...

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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The pilot scheme for mass screening of bowel cancer was introduced to the West Midlands in the year 2000. This involved only people who had reached the age of 60 and over (…). Having reached the ripe old age, I was thus invited to take part and was delighted when the result came back giving me an all clear. Life then carried on as usual and at the time, something like 6 months later, I happened to be cleaning, clearing out paperwork from my writing bureau and I came across the document which I'd received, giving me the all clear. And having read it again I found that it contained a list of symptoms that give an indicator of bowel cancer, those being blood in the stools, a change from constipation, from normal stools to constipation or diarrhoea, pain in the abdomen and loss of weight.

At that point in time I decided that it would be little or no inconvenience to check my own stools, and I proceeded to do this on a daily basis. It became, it was important to me that I carry out this exercise over a fairly long period of time because to rush to the doctors at the first sign would really have only been negative. And I continued to check and I was quite surprised to find that it [blood] wouldn't necessarily be there every day, it may in fact not be evident for periods of up to five days.

This is a little bit of blood?

Yes. In actual fact I carried out the exercise for a period of six months so it was June 2001 when I reached the conclusion, I came to the final conclusion that in fact it was time to go and see my GP because the evidence of blood was there at least 90% of the time over that period.

So what happened when you went to the GP after the six months?

Well the GP hasn't obviously got at his disposal the sophisticated kit that the consultant can use to examine you so all he can do is use one of his digits. 

A rectal examination?

Give you a rectal examination. My doctor having done that already, knew, because I'd told him obviously that I'd been checking myself for six months anyhow, and he said, “Well you've obviously taken a sensible view of doing the sampling because you've done it over that period of time, and although I can't confirm that you've got it [cancer] I am going to, I'm going to refer you.” Which he did, and I subsequently saw the consultant, probably a couple of months later and I had the sigmoidoscopy.


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Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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