Every day, your colon sheds cells that line the colon into the stool, so at-home stool collection tests can often uncover cancerous changes. For those who can’t or won’t do the bowel prep necessary for a colonoscopy, at-home testing kits are somewhat successful at detecting early colon cancer lesions. And studies suggest these fecal blood
Every day, your colon sheds cells that line the colon into the stool, so at-home stool collection tests can often uncover cancerous changes. For those who can’t or won’t do the bowel prep necessary for a colonoscopy, at-home testing kits are somewhat successful at detecting early colon cancer lesions. And studies suggest these fecal blood tests are associated with increased screening rates.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three types of at-home colon cancer screening tests, only two are in wide use for their ease and effectiveness. Patients can request the test they want, but it’s important to note that not every at-home kit is covered by insurance.
- FIT: The fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool, and it’s about 79% accurate at detecting colon cancer. All you have to do: Have a bowel movement, collect a small amount of fecal matter and send it to the lab for analysis. The kit includes everything you need from instructions and a swab for fecal collection to a sterile container and special envelope for mailing. FIT is simple, seamless and covered by most insurance companies.
The drawbacks: Since polyps may not be bleeding at the time of testing, and the test relies on blood in the stool to detect cancer, patients need to repeat FIT annually. And if the FIT test comes back positive, you still need a colonoscopy. Another drawback: “The FIT test is prone to false positive, and a positive result warrants additional investigation through a colonoscopy,” Dr. Cheng says.
- Cologuard: A pricier option than FIT, Cologuard is about 92% accurate at detecting colorectal cancer. “In addition to looking for blood in the stool, like FIT, Cologuard also searches for DNA markers of colon cancer and precancerous polyps,” Dr. Cheng says.
The drawbacks: Cologuard testing needs to be repeated every three years, and not all Cologuard tests are covered by insurance.
To do at-home colon cancer screening, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor. You’ll collect the sample at home with the prescribed kit, then mail it off to the prescribing doctor (or a lab). When the analysis is complete, your doctor will go over the results with you.
“If an at-home test comes back positive, patients still need to undergo a colonoscopy, not only to diagnose cancer, but also to remove polyps and prevent cancer,” Dr. Cheng says.