Colorectal cancer is the most common types of cancer that affects men and women in the United States (excluding skin cancer). It features the abnormal growth of cells in the colon and may result in blood in the stool. Both invasive and non-invasive screening techniques are available for this serious condition.
Invasive methods include colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy, and non-invasive procedures include fecal occult blood tests. The latter are commonly recommended by gastroenterologists because they are simple enough to do at home, non-invasive, and effective. Keep reading to find out more about this vital test and where you can go for a fecal occult blood test near you.
What Is a Fecal Occult Blood Test?
A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) checks stool samples for very small amounts of blood not visible to the naked eye, known as “occult blood.” This test requires abstaining from red meat and certain medications for at least three days before testing to avoid false-positive results.
It is important to note that a fecal occult blood test is not enough to diagnose a specific condition. It only detects blood in the stool, which may indicate other problems that require further testing.
Who Should Get a FOBT?
It is recommended that everyone with an average risk of colorectal cancer undergo some kind of screening and blood tests starting at age 45 or 50. Regular testing should continue until at least age 75. This includes FOBT, colonoscopy, or another test your doctor may recommend considering your family history of disease.
People with a family history of colorectal cancer or personal history of colon polyps and inflammatory bowel disease are considered high risk for colon cancer. FOBT may not be enough to screen for colon cancer in these patients, so typically they may require a colonoscopy every few years rather than every 10 years which is normal for someone at average risk.
What Conditions Can a FOBT Detect?
The primary reasons for utilizing fecal occult blood tests include the following:
- Diagnosing anemia
- Investigating potential gastrointestinal bleeding
- Distinguishing between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the latter tends include intestinal bleeding
- Screening for colorectal cancer
A positive FOBT result indicates bleeding in your digestive tract. While this bleeding may be due to colorectal cancer, it can also be due to other conditions, such as:
- Polyps – abnormal tissue growth on the inner lining of the digestive tract
- Hemorrhoids – distended, painful veins in the mucosal lining of the anus and rectum
- Diverticulosis – small pouches in the wall of the digestive tract
- Ulcers – sores along the lining of the digestive system
- Colitis – chronic inflammation of the colon (large intestine)
What Are the Advantages of a FOBT?
This test is a simple and reliable way to screen for cancer of the digestive tract. Its primary advantage is a reduction in deaths due to colorectal cancer. In addition, FOBTs are:
A FOBT is a simple, non-invasive test that patients can perform at home. It is painless and does not require any sedation or preparation.
2. Convenient and Accessible
Typically, your healthcare provider will give you a kit for collecting stool samples at home. It will come with instructions on how to perform the test.
3. Highly Sensitive and Specific
The test has been improved over time, leading to higher sensitivity and specificity. That means the test is effective at detecting colorectal cancer early, even in asymptomatic individuals.
FOBTs are relatively inexpensive compared to other screening methods like colonoscopies, making them a cost-effective option for many individuals and healthcare systems.
5. Can Detect Cancer Early and Prevent It
Colorectal cancer screening can help detect the disease in its initial stages. That is when it is most treatable and has the highest chance of survival.
Screening can also help prevent colorectal cancer by identifying bleeding polyps, some of which could be precancerous. That way, doctors can remove them before they turn into cancer and consequently prevent colon cancer.
While no test is 100% accurate, FOBTs are trusted method for bowel cancer detection in individuals with average risk and no symptoms. Consult your gastroenterologist to decide the best screening method that suits your needs.
Are There Risks or Limitations?
Unfortunately, FOBTs are not perfect at detecting colon cancer. There is potential for:
- False-negative results when cancer or polyps are present but do not bleed
- False-positive results due to bleeding from other sources, such as stomach ulcers or hemorrhoids
Additionally, your doctor may want to perform additional testing (e.g., colonoscopy procedure, endoscopy procedure) after a positive FOBT result to examine the inside of the colon.
Overview and Significance
Colorectal cancer is a significant health concern that affects many people in the United States. As of 2022, it is one of the three most commonly diagnosed cancers and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
Screening is vital for early detection and treatment, and fecal occult blood testing is one method beneficial for asymptomatic patients.
A negative result indicates no blood in the sample, but a positive one is not a definitive cancer diagnosis.
Blood in the stool may result from other conditions, such as an ulcer or hemorrhoids. Further testing and evaluation are needed to determine the cause of the bleeding. Individuals need to undergo regular screenings to detect and prevent disease progression.
Fecal Occult Blood Tests in California
At inSite Digestive Health Care, we have various diagnostic tools to help with early detection of colorectal cancer, including fecal occult blood tests. Rest assured that our highly qualified, board-certified gastroenterologists will work with you to determine the best action for your needs.
For your convenience, we have multiple locations across California. With extensive experience in all areas of digestive health, our GI specialists are committed to your wellbeing. To find out more or schedule an in-office consultation, call our offices or request your visit here. We look forward to helping you feel your best!