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Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

Definition

The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a newer screening test for colon cancer. It tests for hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of cancer. FIT only detects human blood from the lower intestines. Medicines and food don't interfere with the test. So it tends to be more accurate and have fewer false positives than other tests.

Alternate names

Immunochemical fecal occult blood test; iFOBT; Colon cancer screening - FIT

How the test is performed

You will be given the test to use at home. Be sure to follow the instructions provided. Most tests have the following steps:

  • Flush the toilet before having a bowel movement.
  • Put the used toilet paper in the waste bag provided. Do not put it into the toilet bowl.
  • Use the brush from the kit to brush the surface of the stool and then dip the brush into the toilet water.
  • Touch the brush on the space indicated on the test card.
  • Add the brush to the waste bag and throw it away.
  • Send the sample to the lab for testing.
  • Your doctor may ask you to test more than one stool sample before sending it in.

How to prepare for the test

You do not need to do anything to prepare for the test.

How the test will feel

Some people may be squeamish about collecting the sample. But you won't feel anything during the test.

Why the test is performed

Blood in the stool is an early sign of colon cancer. This test is performed to detect blood in the stool that you can't see. This type of screening can detect problems that can be treated before cancer develops or spreads.

Talk with your doctor about when you should have colon screenings.

Normal results

A normal result means the test did not detect any blood in the stool. However, because cancers in the colon may not always bleed, you may need to do the test a few times to confirm that there is no blood in your stool.

What abnormal test results mean

If the FIT come back positive for blood in the stool, your doctor will want to perform other tests, usually including a colonoscopy. The FIT test can't diagnose cancer. Screening tests such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy can also help detect cancer. Both the FIT test and other screenings can catch colon cancer early, when it's easier to treat.

Risks

There are no risks from using the FIT.

References

Blanke CD, Faigel DO. Neoplasms of the small and large intestine. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 199.

Burke C, Bianchi L. Colorectal Neoplasia. In: Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:section 5.

Burt RW, Barthel JS, Dunn KB, et al. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology. Colorectal cancer screening. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2010;8(1):8-61.

Rex D, Johnson D, Anderson J, et al. American College of Gastroenterology Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer Screening 2008. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009; 104:739-750.


Review Date: 8/4/2013
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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