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A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a diagnostic tool that can screen for colorectal cancer. It detects hidden blood in the stool, which indicates bowel abnormalities that may be due to colorectal cancer. A positive FIT result will warrant further investigation. An early diagnosis of cancer generally leads to more effective treatment and a better outlook.
In this article, we explain what a FIT test involves, look at the pros and the cons of different at-home tests, and answer some frequently asked questions.
A FIT test screens for colorectal cancer by checking for blood in the stool. It is one of the two main types of fecal occult blood test. Blood vessels in colon tumors or polyps may bleed with the passage of stool, but the blood is not always visible to the naked eye. A FIT test uses antibodies to detect hidden blood in the stool.
The detection of blood indicates a positive test, but it does not necessarily mean that a person has colorectal cancer. Other conditions, such as hemorrhoids, benign polyps, and ulcers, may also cause blood in the stool. However, a positive test indicates that a person should contact their doctor for additional screening, such as a colonoscopy.
The FIT test is a simple and noninvasive test that people can perform at home. A FIT home testing kit will include instructions and a sterile container for the stool sample. Most kits will also include an envelope for mailing the sample to a laboratory. A person does not have to restrict their diet or prepare in any other way before obtaining the sample.
Some people may wish to do a FIT test as a routine screening because of their age. The Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults aged 45–75 years undergo screening for colorectal cancer. Other people may want to do a FIT test because they are experiencing symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer. These include:
- unexplained abdominal pain
- changes in bowel habits
- unexplained weight loss
The concept behind a FIT test is the same regardless of the manufacturer, although individual instructions and processing times may vary. Below are several home testing kits that people can consider using.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information is purely research-based.
Everlywell states that only those aged 45 years and older are eligible for this screening test. A board certified doctor in the person’s state will review all test results, which it takes about 3 days to receive. One advantage of Everlywell is that its system offers the results through a dashboard, making it easy for a person to share them with their doctor. The cost of the FIT test is $49, and the company accepts Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
LetsGetChecked offers results in 2–5 days. Nurses are available to discuss positive test results with the individual, whose doctor can also download the results. The test costs $69 for a single purchase, but a person looking for regular screening tests can save money by subscribing.
Pixel describes its FIT testing kit as a “simpler and more affordable” alternative to colonoscopy. As with the tests above, an individual shops and pays online for the Pixel FIT test. An independent doctor will review and approve the test request, so no doctor’s visit is necessary. The company does not indicate how long it takes to get test results back, and the price is higher than that of other companies’ tests, at $89.
Pinnacle Biolabs’ Second Generation FIT test offers results in minutes, and the company states that it is the top selling colon cancer screening test in North America. The main advantage of this test is that an individual performs the whole test at home and does not need to send a sample in the mail. The cost of the test is $29.99. However, the company does not indicate whether support is available for those who get positive test results.
An individual can order this test online without the need for a doctor’s visit. A physician reviews the order to ensure that it is appropriate. The cost of this test is $89 plus a $6 doctor fee, which makes it more costly than other FIT tests.
- having excess body weight
- living a sedentary lifestyle
- eating a diet low in fruit and vegetables
- eating a low fiber and high fat diet
- consuming large quantities of processed meats
- drinking alcohol
Colorectal cancer tends to grow slowly, and the detection of precancerous polyps or small lesions helps improve the outlook. Colorectal cancer screening tests, such as a FIT test and a colonoscopy, make early diagnosis possible.
Whether an individual undergoes a colonoscopy or FIT test may depend on their assessed risk. The American Cancer Society (ACS) defines average risk as:
- no history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- no family history of colorectal cancer
- no history of Crohn’s disease or any form of inflammatory bowel disease
- no history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
- no history of radiation treatment to the belly
Anyone who gets a positive FIT result should contact a doctor for further evaluation. Although a positive test does not necessarily mean that a person has colorectal cancer, a doctor will discuss the next steps.
It is also important to contact a doctor if symptoms occur that could indicate colorectal cancer. People who believe that they are at increased risk of colorectal cancer may also wish to discuss regular screening with a doctor.
People considering ordering a FIT test to use at home may wonder:
Is a FIT test accurate?
When should you take an at-home colorectal cancer test?
The colorectal cancer screening recommendations of the Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer suggest that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start undergoing screening tests at the age of 50 years. The ACS recommends starting slightly younger, at the age of 45 years. If a person wishes to have a FIT test instead of other screening options, they can discuss this with their doctor.
Can a FIT test diagnose colorectal cancer without a colonoscopy?
A FIT test does not diagnose colorectal cancer. Instead, it detects blood in the stool, which is not always visible to the naked eye. The presence of blood may indicate colorectal cancer or other bowel complications. A positive FIT result warrants further investigation to diagnose the cause of the bleeding.
Does insurance cover a FIT test?
Whether a person’s insurance covers a FIT test may depend on their age and individual coverage. For example, Medicare covers FIT once every 12 months for enrollees aged 50 years and older. In some cases, an individual may also use funds from their HSA to cover the costs.
A FIT test is a type of colorectal cancer screening. The test detects blood in the stool that may not be visible to the naked eye. The presence of blood indicates a need for further evaluation to diagnose the cause of the bleeding. A positive result does not necessarily mean that a person has cancer, but the early detection and treatment of this disease generally improve a person’s outlook.
A variety of at-home FIT test options are available for people to consider. People can perform these tests at home, often without the need for a doctor’s visit.