at home screening tests

Do at-home cancer screening tests live up to the hype?

You’ve seen the commercial. A talking, animated box lets you know that there’s a simple, non-invasive way to test for colorectal cancer in the comfort of your own home. No special prep or time off required. But are home stool tests accurate? And are they covered by insurance?

Yes, says Xavier Llor, MD, PhD, medical director of the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital. “Studies have shown that stool tests not only detect cancers – they also save lives from colorectal cancer,” he said. “And they are usually covered by insurance.”

With stool tests, you receive a kit from your healthcare provider. You collect stool at home and return the kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood or cancer cells.

The accuracy rates vary depending on what is being tested. “Sensitivity for colorectal cancer can reach up to 90 percent for some of the simple stool tests and it can even be a bit higher with the ones that include DNA analysis,” Dr. Llor said.

However, for polyps, Dr. Llor says the accuracy rate is around 40 percent. Finding these polyps is vital because, while only about one in 200 polyps ever turns into a cancer, all colorectal cancers come from a precancerous polyp or lesion. “These tests are good as long as individuals have them on a yearly basis,” Dr. Llor said. “If a stool test is positive for polyps, you will still need a colonoscopy to find and remove them.”

Could stool tests be right for you? Talk to your doctor.

“This is an individual decision that should be taken after discussion with your healthcare provider as there are pros and cons for every approach,” Dr. Llor said. “We don’t suggest using stool-based kits when there is family history of colorectal cancer and in other situations such as history of inflammatory bowel disease, among others. In these cases, we still suggest that the preferred method is colonoscopy. But if the risk is low, stool-based tests are a reasonable alternative.”

What are the symptoms of colon cancer? When symptoms of colon cancer occur they may include:

  • Blood in/on the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Frequent gas pains
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Constant tiredness or fatigue during activity that was previously tolerated

People over age 50 have the highest risk of colorectal cancer, which is the third most common cancer among men and women. You may also be at higher risk if you are African American, smoke or have a family history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. If you are at an increased risk of getting colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you and how often you should get tested. For a physician referral, call 888-700-6543 or visit our Find a Doctor feature on the hospital website.

COVID-19/Coronavirus updates

COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus, is a respiratory disease that continues to make news around the world. This is a rapidly evolving situation, with officials and the public learning more every day. For the latest updates, visit the CDC or this page on the YNHHS website.

Awareness and prevention are key to reducing possible exposure. Patients with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms may appear 2 - 14 days after exposure and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Currently, the CDC recommends that people follow basic precautions for their well-being and safety:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Avoid contact with people who are ill.
  • Refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home if you are ill — do not go to work or school.
  • Face masks are not recommended for healthy people to avoid respiratory viruses including COVID-19.
  • Face masks are not likely to prevent transmission of coronavirus when used in routine settings and may contribute to increased transmission due to readjustment, ill fit and increased face touching. 
  • Face masks are recommended for those that are sick, coughing or have a fever when visiting a hospital or doctor’s office. 
  • If you need medical attention, call your provider before going to a healthcare facility.

Share your experience

YNHH’s Patient and Family Advisor Programs involve patients or family members who have had experience with Yale New Haven Hospital, the Children’s Hospital, the Psychiatric Hospital or Smilow Cancer Hospital and want to volunteer to help the hospital become more patient- and family-focused.

Advisors bring a unique personal experience to help YNHH improve and enhance its patient services. You can serve on one of six Patient and Family Advisor Councils (PFACs): Adult, Children’s Hospital, Smilow, Behavioral Health, Neuro Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

If you are a patient or family member (or know someone who is) who might be a good candidate to become an advisor at YNHH, please contact: Irma Dadic, coordinator, Patient and Family Engagement, at 203-688-7457 or email [email protected].

Skip the trip! Video Care OnDemand

We like to see our patients in the office, but we know that’s not always convenient – and for some visits, not necessary. With Yale New Haven Health’s Video Care OnDemand, you can receive the same attention and quality of care as you would in an office, without taking time off from work or traveling to your appointment. Video Care OnDemand is a telehealth service, providing you with video access for non-emergency medical concerns.

With Video Care OnDemand, you can connect to clinicians who are experienced in internal medicine and family practice from your smartphone or tablet (iPhone, iPad, Android device). Clinicians can diagnose symptoms, order necessary testing, prescribe medication and send prescriptions to the pharmacy of your choice. You never pay more than $59 for a video visit, and it may be covered by your insurance plan.

Video Care OnDemand is currently available Monday - Friday from 7 am - 7 pm, excluding major holidays. Get started by visiting Video Care On Demand or call 833-4TELEMED (833-483-5363) with questions.

Scholarships for local students

The Yale New Haven Hospital Auxiliary is offering 10 scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each to area high school students planning to pursue a career in a health-related profession. Scholarships are based on academic excellence; financial need; personal statement; and community service, including school and community activities and/or employment. Applicants must be high school seniors who are residents of one of the following towns: Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven or Woodbridge.

Download an auxiliary scholarship application or request one by emailing [email protected] or calling 203-688-5717. Submission deadline is March 16.

Smilow Survivorship Clinic: Support for cancer survivors

Established in 2006, the Smilow Cancer Hospital Survivorship Clinic is the only dedicated, multidisciplinary resource for adult cancer survivors in Connecticut. The growing number of cancer survivors requires new resources and healthcare specialists to care for the special concerns cancer survivors may have, including medical, social and emotional issues.

The Survivorship Clinic provides patients and their families with vital information on cancer prevention, wellness, supportive services and the latest health research related to cancer survivorship. This clinic is for you — whether you recently completed treatment, are decades past original diagnosis or are living with cancer as a chronic condition. Visit the survivorship clinic online for more information or call 203-785-2273.

Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven also offers support groups for patients and their families.  View the complete list of support groups and call the contact person(s) listed for more information about a specific group, including schedules and locations.

Referrals for physicians and surgeons

YNHH provides free information about and referrals to more than 2,600 affiliated physicians 24 hours a day. Call 888-700-6543 or visit our Find a Doctor feature on the hospital website for information on physician specialties, office hours and locations as well as insurance plans accepted. YNHH physicians represent more than 70 medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties, including internal medicine/family practice, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics and psychiatry. 

Need blood work? We’re in your neighborhood

When your physician orders blood work or you need to schedule a blood test, Yale New Haven Health makes it easy with blood draw stations conveniently located in your community. No appointment is necessary and all major insurance plans are accepted.

Please note: A requisition form is required. Our blood draw stations honor requisitions from other labs.

Find a location that's convenient on this list of blood draw locations on our website.

What would you like to know?

Want to learn more about a particular health topic or service? Questions about classes and events at YNHH? We want to hear from you! Tell us what you like about Advancing Care or send suggestions for improvement or changes. Email us and let us know how we can better serve your health needs.

YNHHS patients:  Do you have MyChart?

MyChart gives Yale New Haven Health System patients secure, online, 24/7 access to portions of your electronic medical record (EMR). There you can see your medical history, most laboratory and test results, appointment information, medications, allergies, immunizations and other health information. You can schedule appointments with your doctor, request or renew prescriptions, see your billing and insurance information and send and receive secure, confidential electronic messages with your doctor’s office. Sign up by using the activation code on the after-visit summary from your doctor, request a MyChart Activation Code at your next appointment or visit the MyChart website and click “New User?”

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Make a lasting impact at YNHH

Help support the mission of Yale New Haven Hospital with a donation! Your contributions support vital programs, services and facilities within the hospital and help keep Yale New Haven at the forefront of innovative treatment. When you make a gift to YNHH, you are part of the advanced medicine and compassionate commitment that touch so many lives in our community.

Billing questions?

Yale New Haven Hospital offers financial counseling to patients and families. Spanish-speaking counselors are available. Additionally, evening sessions are scheduled once a month — the next two are Monday, March 16 and Monday, April 20 from 5 - 7 pm. To make an appointment with a financial counselor, call 203-688-2046.