General tests for bowel cancer
Learn more about these general tests:
Your doctor will ask to feel your abdomen for any swelling. To check for problems in the rectum and anus, they may also do an internal examination. This involves the doctor putting a gloved, lubricated finger into the anus to feel for any lumps or swelling. This is called a digital rectal examination (DRE). If you feel embarrassed or scared about having this examination, let your doctor know. A nurse may be present, but you can also ask for a family member or friend to be in the room with you for support.
The DRE may be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. Because the anus is a muscle, it can help to try to relax during the examination. The pressure on the rectum might make you feel like you are going to have a bowel movement, but it is very unlikely that this will happen.
You may have a blood test to check your general health and to look for signs that you are losing blood in your faeces (stools or poo).
The blood test may measure chemicals that are found or made in your liver, and check your red blood cell count (haemoglobin level). Low red blood cell levels (anaemia) are common in people with bowel cancer, but may also be caused by other conditions.
A test called the immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT) looks for tiny amounts of blood in your faeces. It is commonly used as a screening test for bowel cancer.
An iFOBT is generally not recommended for people who are bleeding from the rectum or have bowel symptoms (change in bowel habit, anaemia, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain). People with these symptoms are usually referred for a colonoscopy straightaway.
For an iFOBT, you usually collect a sample of your faeces at home. The sample is sent to a laboratory and examined for traces of blood, which may be a sign of polyps, cancer or another gastrointestinal condition. If the test finds blood in your faeces, your doctor will recommend you have a colonoscopy.
I had very light blood streaks on toilet paper when wiping my bottom. After 2 weeks of this, I went to my doctor thinking it was haemorrhoids but he sent me for a colonoscopy.RICHARD
Podcast: Tests and Cancer
A/Prof David A Clark, Senior Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD, The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Cameron Bell, Gastroenterologist, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast University Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; John Clements, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Medical Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, GastroIntestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Prof Alexander Heriot, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, Director Cancer Surgery, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Director, Lower GI Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Kirsten van Gysen, Radiation Oncologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW.
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