Annual at-home stool test may be as effective as colonoscopy, study finds

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By Linda Carroll

When it comes to colon cancer screening, an annual stool test may be as effective as colonoscopy for people who don’t have risk factors for the disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data from 31 studies that included more than 120,000 average risk patients who had a stool test and then a colonoscopy. They determined that the fecal immunochemical test — or FIT — is sufficient to screen for colon cancer, according to the report published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The FIT is designed to detect the protein hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. People who test positive with the FIT need to get a colonoscopy to determine whether they have cancer or pre-cancerous lesions. But those who test negative only need to keep getting the FIT each year to make sure they don’t develop colon cancer.

“This non-invasive test for colon cancer screening is available for average risk people,” said the study’s lead author, gastroenterologist Dr. Thomas Imperiale, an investigator at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis. “They should discuss with their providers whether it is appropriate for them.”

According to Imperiale, average risk means a person has:

  • no family history of colorectal cancer.
  • no personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • no previous colon cancer or detected pre-cancerous polyps.

FIT is done at home by the patient and sent to a lab for evaluation.