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Stool Tests for Colorectal Cancer

Test Overview

A stool test is one of many tests used to look for colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer affects the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. Stool tests look for signs of blood or cancer in a stool sample.

Stool tests include:

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT). There are no drug or food restrictions. This test should be done every one to two years from ages 50 to 74.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test is not done in Alberta.

Blood in the stool may be the only symptom of colorectal cancer. But not all blood in the stool is caused by cancer. Other conditions that can cause blood in the stool include:

A stool test is one of many tests that may be used to screen for colon cancer. Other tests include sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography. Which screening test you choose depends on your risk, your preference, and your doctor. Talk to your doctor about what puts you at risk and what test is best for you.

Why It Is Done

Stool tests are done to look for blood in the stool, since cancer and polyps in the colon are more likely to bleed than normal colon tissue. If blood is found, more tests, such as a colonoscopy, will be done to find the cause.

How To Prepare

Don't do the stool tests during your menstrual period or if you have active bleeding from hemorrhoids. Also, don't test a stool sample that has been in contact with toilet bowl cleaning products that turn the water blue.

How It Is Done

There are different types of home tests. The companies that make the test kits provide instructions. To get accurate results, carefully follow the instructions in your kit.

Since colorectal cancers don't bleed all the time, some stool tests are done over several days on different stool samples. This increases the chance of finding blood in your stool if it exists.

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

The test kit contains the things you need to collect small samples of stool. For some types of FIT, you may need to collect a stool sample on 2 or more days.

The FIT test doesn't require a special diet in the days before you take the test.

When the test is done, follow the instructions to return the test. Some tests provide the results right away. If your test shows that blood was found, call your doctor as soon as you can.

Guaiac fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)

This test is not done in Alberta.


There are no known risks from having this test.


If your test sample is sent to a lab or returned to your doctor's office, your test results will likely be read by your doctor. Some labs may send you the results. And depending on the type of test you choose, you may be able to see the results after completing the last step.

Stool tests


A normal FIT test means that there was no blood in your stool at the time of the test. Normal test results are called negative.


An abnormal FIT test means that there was some blood in your stool at the time of the test. Abnormal test results are called positive.

Normal results

If a stool test is normal, it doesn't always mean that you don't have colorectal cancer or colon polyps. That's because these tests can miss polyps and some cancers.

Talk with your doctor about how often you should do a test, depending on your age and any risk factors you may have for colorectal cancer.

Abnormal results

A benign polyp, a precancerous polyp, or cancer can cause a positive stool test. Abnormal results can happen even if you don't have cancer. But with a positive test, there is a small chance that you could have colorectal cancer.

If your test is positive, you will need to have a colonoscopy. This would be used to see if the stool test result is from colorectal cancer.

But blood in the stool is more often caused by something other than cancer. These other causes could include hemorrhoids, ulcers, or taking aspirin.

Stool test results that are positive when you don't have cancer are called false-positive test results.


Adaptation Date: 2/24/2022

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

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