Screening & Testing: Stool Lab Test (101, 102)

What is a Stool Test

fecal stool test spotting cancer

A stool analysis is a series of tests done on a stool sample to help diagnose certain conditions affecting the digestive system. Stool lab tests are used to find hidden blood.

Typically, occult blood is passed in such small amounts that it can be detected only through the chemicals used in a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). If blood is detected through a fecal blood test, additional tests may be needed to determine the source of the bleeding. The fecal occult blood test can only detect the presence or absence of blood; it does not indicate the potential sources of bleeding.

Screening Methods: 

The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) typically requires the collection of three stool samples. The stool sample should be taken one day apart, rather than back-to-back, because colon cancers don’t necessarily bleed consistently. It is best to catch the fecal matter before it enters the toilet. You can purchase fecal occult blood test kits at the pharmacy to perform the test at home, or your doctor may give you the home test during your appointment. The stool samples are collected in a clean container. The container should be sealed in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator until it is given to the doctor or lab. These are evaluated by sending the samples, in a special container and envelope, directly to the doctor’s office or designated laboratory for analysis.

fecal occult blood test cancer screening


The fecal occult blood test results are largely affected by how you prepare for the test, so it is important to follow instructions carefully. Since certain foods can alter test results, a special diet is often recommended 48 to 72 hours before the test. Make sure no red food of any kind is eaten for two days prior to the test.

Watch this video to see what happens during a stool test.


To allow for early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer, the fecal occult blood test is recommended yearly for everyone. This annual test may be recommended along with a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. A negative test result means that no blood was found in the stool sample during the testing period.

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