Did you know you can take an at home colon cancer test to see if you have colorectal cancer? Most people think about colonoscopy when talking about colon cancer screening. But, this test isn’t for everyone.  

The good news is that it’s possible to check for colon cancer without a colonoscopy. This mostly applies to adults age 45 or older, the age when screening for colon cancer or rectal cancer begins. Read on to learn more about taking a colon cancer test in the privacy and comfort of your home.

1. Can I Test for Colon Cancer at Home? 

Yes! There are different types of stool tests for cancer. 

Types of Stool Tests for Colon Cancer 

To begin with, the following at home tests check for both colon cancer and rectal cancer:

  • FIT-DNA (for example, Cologuard®)
    • A stool DNA test looks for abnormal sections of DNA. Additionally, a FIT-DNA looks for blood in your poop.
    • One stool sample is needed.
    • This test is repeated every three years. An abnormal test does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but it requires a follow-up colonoscopy to determine why the test is abnormal.
  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
    • The FIT can identify blood in poop that is microscopic or otherwise difficult for you to see. 
    • One stool sample is sufficient.
    • This test is repeated every year. An abnormal test does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but it requires a follow-up colonoscopy to determine why the test is abnormal.

Similarities of At Home Colon Cancer Tests 

With both the FIT-DNA (Cologuard) and FIT, patients collect stool samples using a kit.

Be sure to check with your insurance company to find out:

  • If you are eligible for colon cancer at home tests. 
  • Which tests are covered?
    • Does your insurance cover both FIT-DNA and FIT?
    • Or does it only cover one of them?
  • Who will provide the test to you?
    • Will your doctor provide the test to you?
    • Can you buy it online yourself?
      • If you buy a test online, will your insurance company reimburse you?
      • Is the cost of testing included in the price of the test?
  • Where do you need to go to receive your test?
  • How do you need to complete your test?
  • Where do you send your completed test?
    • Do you bring it back to your doctor? 
    • Should you bring it to a lab? 
    • Are you supposed to mail your test somewhere or send it by a priority mail service?
  • How do you obtain your at home colon cancer test results?
  • Follow-up care if your test result is positive. (Spoiler alert! We answer this question below because this answer is the same for all positive colon cancer at home test results: Be sure to schedule your follow-up colonoscopy as soon as possible.)

Important: If your doctor advises of a positive finding (meaning your test came back with something abnormal), you will need to have a follow-up colonoscopy. Do not skip this step. Be sure to schedule your follow-up colonoscopy as soon as possible. 

Differences in the Tests

First, it’s important to be aware that insurance does not necessarily cover both the FIT-DNA and FIT. Be sure to call or contact your insurance company to find out which test(s) they cover.

The National Institutes of Health describes the differences between the FIT-DNA (Cologuard) and FIT:

  • FIT-DNA (Cologuard) detects hemoglobin, along with certain DNA biomarkers. The DNA comes from cells in the lining of the colon and rectum that are shed and collect in stool as it passes through the large intestine and rectum.
  • FIT uses antibodies to detect hemoglobin protein specifically. Dietary restrictions are typically not required for FIT.

Differences in Follow-up for Negative Test

If your test is negative:

  • Take FIT-fecal DNA (Cologuard) follow-up test in three years
  • FIT should be repeated annually

Worth Noting

  • The at home colon cancer test screenings may not detect colon polyps as a colonoscopy does. It may take years for polyps to grow, and nearly all colon cancers or rectal cancers start as polyps.
  • Your out-of-pocket costs may differ depending on which of the at home colon cancer tests you take: FIT-DNA (Cologuard) or FIT. Be sure to check with your insurance company to find out which test is best for you. It’s important also to choose the test that is most affordable to you. 
  • Additionally, a colon cancer at home test does not explain what the cause of bleeding is or why you have blood in your stool. 
  • The purpose of at home colon cancer test is to check for cancer in people who do not show signs or symptoms and who are at the colorectal cancer screening age. Furthermore, if you have a family history of colon cancer or rectal cancer, or if you have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, it’s important to get a colonoscopy rather than take an at home colon cancer test. 
  • Finally, colorectal cancer screening is important! The best test is the one that gets done!

2. How Accurate Is a Stool Test for Colon Cancer?

In general, FIT-fecal DNA (Cologuard) will detect nine out of 10 cancers as a single-time test. FIT will detect eight out of 10 cancers. 

Online research comparing colonoscopy vs. stool-based testing shows that detection rates for finding cancer are extremely close. 

Equally important, polyp detection rates are drastically different. This is crucial to note because we know that when doctors discover and remove polyps during colonoscopy, colorectal cancer may be prevented or found early.

Still, it’s essential to be aware that at home colon cancer tests may provide false-positive results. 

Worth Noting

  1. An at home colon cancer test is the best test option when compared with not having your colorectal cancer screening.
  2. It’s important to follow the directions for the colon cancer stool test you are taking. (If you took a FIT before and are taking a FIT-DNA (Cologuard) test this time, be sure to follow the directions for the FIT-DNA (Cologuard) test, not the FIT you took previously.
  3. Be sure to take your stool test consistently. Take one as often as your doctor recommends. 

Important: If your at home colon cancer test result is positive, you need a follow-up colonoscopy. Speak to your doctor or GI about having one as soon as possible. 

Sometimes an at home test for colon cancer shows a positive result. This does not always mean you have cancer. However, it is vital that you treat a positive result urgently. 

  • If your test FIT-fecal DNA (Cologuard) is negative, be sure to take a follow-up test every three years
  • FIT should be repeated annually

Ask your doctor what they recommend. Then be sure to confirm with your insurance company that they cover at home testing when you plan to take it.

Important: At home colon cancer tests are not like colonoscopies, which need to be repeated every 10 years (or soon if your doctor recommends, or if you show signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer). At home colorectal cancer screening tests require more frequency than colonoscopies do.

When doctors find and treat colorectal cancer quickly, you maximize your potential for positive outcomes.

3. Is an at Home Colon Cancer Test Right For You?

There are circumstances when you need to have a colonoscopy rather than an at home colon cancer test. Some of these situations are when you have:

  • Family or personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps.
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Family history of genetic syndrome linked to colorectal cancer.
  • Previous radiation of the abdomen or pelvic area.
  • Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Important: If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or if you have signs and symptoms, a colonoscopy is the best test for you.

However, there are instances when an at home colon cancer test may be the right test for you! Consider taking an at home test when you:

  • Do not meet any of the above-listed circumstances of why you should not use colon cancer at home testing. 
  • Will not get screened otherwise.
  • Feel more comfortable in the privacy and comfort of your home.
  • Seek an affordable option if you are unable to take time from work or if you are unable to afford a colonoscopy. 

4. What Do You Need to Know About At Home Tests?

A colon cancer stool test typically:

  • Can be done at home.
  • Comes with instructions. (Be sure to follow them! Each test is different).
  • Must be done regularly. (Unlike a colonoscopy, stool tests must be performed annually or every three years. The time between depends on the test you take).
  • May be obtained from your doctor.
  • Might be covered by your healthcare provider copay.
  • May be covered by insurance. Be sure to call your insurance company to find out which at home colon cancer stool tests are covered.

5. Will a Colon Cancer at Home Test from a Store or Drug Store Work?

Yes. A colon cancer at home test from a store or drug store will work. We recommend you obtain the test from your doctor. But we understand that it may be more convenient and cost effective for you to buy and take the test on your own.

  • Emphatically, the best test is the one that gets done.
  • Be sure to read and follow the directions for your at home test. 
  • Let your doctor’s office know you are taking an at home colon cancer test and ask any questions you may have.
  • Follow up with your doctor’s office, so they know you’ve completed your colorectal cancer screening. In the event of a positive result, schedule your follow-up colonoscopy as soon as possible. 
  • If your test result is negative, be sure to take your at home colon cancer test within one to three years. (Discuss with your doctor the best time frame for you.)

6. What Causes a Positive at Home Test Result? 

When an at home test detects blood in poop, you will receive a positive result. This happens when a scant amount of blood may cling to stool as it passes through your colon or rectum, particularly if you have a large polyp or tumor growing.

These tests work by detecting miniscule amounts of fecal blood that may not be able to be seen by the human eye. Polyps or tumors don’t always bleed. This is why it’s important to have your FIT every year, or your FIT-DNA test (Cologuard) every three years.

In addition to checking for blood in the stool, a FIT-DNA test, like Cologuard, looks for abnormal sections of DNA. If it finds either, you may receive a positive test result. So, you may wonder, "Does a positive stool test mean cancer?" No, it does not.

Ultimately, a positive result does not mean you have colorectal cancer. But please take the results seriously and schedule your follow-up colonoscopy as soon as possible.

7. How Do I Get an at Home Colon Cancer Test?

Talk with your doctor about your at home colon cancer test screening. Your doctor will provide a stool collection kit and instructions, or prescribe your test. 

Some test kits are available online or in many pharmacies for purchase without a prescription. If you purchase the kit yourself, let your doctor’s office know. They can help you navigate understanding the results and setting appropriate follow-up care.

Important: If you have signs or symptoms, you need to have a colonoscopy. Taking an at home test for colon cancer will not be helpful for you at this point.

8. Will My Insurance Cover my at Home Test?

To find out which at home colon cancer test your insurance company will cover, please be sure to call and confirm with them directly. 

Noninvasive screening tests, such as FIT and FIT-DNA (Cologuard), are great options for average-risk patients to complete colorectal cancer screenings. 

Important: For those who receive a positive result, screening is not complete until they undergo a colonoscopy

Colorectal Cancer Screening Options

If you're researching colorectal cancer screening options, make sure to check out our Colonoscopy FAQ.

Medically reviewed by Swati G. Patel, MD, MS, December 2022

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