Fecal Occult Blood Test
The fecal occult blood test is one of a variety of colorectal
cancer screening tests. When doctors test for fecal occult blood, they are
testing for the presence of microscopic or invisible blood in the stool, or
feces. Fecal occult blood can be a sign of a problem in your digestive system,
such as a growth, or polyp, or cancer in the colon or rectum. If microscopic
blood is detected, it is important for your doctor to determine the source of
bleeding to properly diagnose and treat the problem.
What causes blood to appear in stool?
Blood may appear in the stool because of one or more of the following conditions:
- Benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) growths or polyps of the
- Hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels near the anus and lower rectum that
can rupture, causing bleeding)
- Anal fissures (splits or cracks in the lining of the anal opening)
- Intestinal infections that cause inflammation
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- Diverticular disease, caused by outpouchings of the colon wall
- Abnormalities of the blood vessels in the large intestine
Gastrointestinal bleeding may be microscopic (occult blood), or
may be easily seen as red blood, or black tar-like bowel movements, called
How do I take a fecal occult blood test?
The fecal occult blood test requires the collection of 3 stool
samples. The stool samples should be taken one day apart, because colon cancers
may bleed from time to time, rather than consistently.
You can purchase fecal occult blood test kits at the pharmacy to
perform the test at home, or your doctor may give you the home test during one
of your appointments. These tests provide specific instructions, and most offer
a toll-free number to call if you have questions.
The stool samples are collected in a clean container and
evaluated by detecting color changes on a test card, or by sending the samples,
in a special container and envelope, directly to the doctor’s office for
analysis. Your doctor may examine the samples with a microscope or with chemical
How should I prepare for a fecal occult blood test?
The test results are largely affected by how you prepare for the
test, so it is important to follow the instructions carefully.
Do not perform the test if you have:
- Severe throat irritation
- Hemorrhoid flare-ups
- Your period
Because certain foods can alter the test results, a special diet
is often recommended for 48 to 72 hours before the test.
The following foods should not be eaten 48 to 72 hours before
taking the test:
- Red meat (especially meat that is cooked rare)
- Vitamin C-enriched foods or beverages
Your doctor will go over your medicines with you before the
test, since you may need to stop taking certain medicines 48 hours before the
How often do I need to do this test?
To allow for the early detection and prevention of colorectal
cancer, the fecal occult blood test is recommended yearly for everyone starting
at age 50.
What do the test results mean?
A positive fecal occult blood test means that blood has been
found in the stool. Your doctor will have to determine the source of the
bleeding, either by doing a colonoscopy (an examination of the entire colon) or
by doing an upper endoscopy (an examination to determine if the bleeding is
coming from the stomach or small intestine).
A negative test result means that no blood was found in the
stool sample during the testing period. You should continue to follow your
doctor's recommendations for regular cancer screening.
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