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Abnormal Fecal Occult Blood Test Result Frequently Asked Questions

If you have received a letter from ColonCancerCheck with an abnormal fecal occult blood test (FOBT) result, the information in this page can help you understand what to expect next.

Abnormal Results

What does my abnormal result mean?

The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) can detect very small amounts of blood in your stool (poop) that may be caused by colorectal cancer. An abnormal FOBT result does not necessarily mean that you have colorectal cancer, but additional testing with a colonoscopy is needed to find out why there is blood in your stool.

What can I expect after an abnormal result?

A colonoscopy is the follow-up test for an abnormal fecal occult blood test (FOBT). ColonCancerCheck, Ontario’s colorectal cancer screening program, recommends that you have a colonoscopy within 8 weeks of your abnormal FOBT result.

Why is it important that I have follow-up testing after an abnormal result?

Only a colonoscopy can tell you if you have colorectal cancer.

  • An abnormal FOBT result could mean you have colorectal cancer, even if you feel healthy.
  • An abnormal FOBT result could mean you have colorectal cancer, even if no one else in your family has had the disease.
  • Even if you have had normal FOBT results in the past, a new abnormal result means something has changed and you need a colonoscopy to find out why you have blood in your stool.
  • The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) cannot tell the difference between bleeding from colorectal cancer and bleeding for other reasons (e.g., bleeding from hemorrhoids or gums).

Follow-Up Colonoscopy

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure done by a doctor who uses a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end to look at the lining of your rectum and colon. During the colonoscopy, the doctor can also take biopsies or remove abnormal growths.

What should I expect from the colonoscopy experience?

A colonoscopy usually lasts half an hour. You can receive medication (a sedative) to make you comfortable.

The day before your colonoscopy

You must prepare for the colonoscopy procedure the day before to make sure the doctor is able to complete a high quality colonoscopy. You will need to “flush out” your colon by drinking a laxative (bowel preparation). This preparation makes sure your colon is empty and clean so it can be properly examined. Before your colonoscopy, you will get instructions about what laxative to take, any medications you should stop taking, and what you can eat and drink.

The hours after your colonoscopy

After your colonoscopy, you will be monitored closely while the effect of the sedative wears off. You will need someone to take you home – you cannot drive a car following the sedation. You may feel a little bloated or have gas for a few hours. Gradually increasing activities, such as walking, will help you pass the gas. You may also see a small amount of blood with your first stool (poop).

What happens after my colonoscopy?

You will receive your colonoscopy results from either the doctor who performed your colonoscopy or your family doctor.

Normal colonoscopy

If you had a colonoscopy after an abnormal fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and your colonoscopy is normal (no abnormalities found), ColonCancerCheck recommends that you start screening again in 10 years using the fecal occult blood test.

Abnormal colonoscopy

Abnormalities, such as polyps, cancer or other colon health issues, may be found during your colonoscopy. Polyps are small growths attached to the bowel wall, which, over time, may become cancer.

Your doctor will inform you of your test results and next steps, including referrals for any further tests and/or treatment.

What are the risks and complications of a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is a safe procedure and complications are rare, but they can happen. Complications may include:

  • a reaction to the medication used to sedate you
  • a very small risk of perforating (making a hole in) the colon, which may require surgery to repair
  • bleeding from removal of a polyp or abnormalities
  • missing an abnormality