As scientists continue to further explore the impacts of digestive tract cancers on the health and well-being of society, fecal specimen collection has become an ever-growing area of interest. 

Fecal specimen collection aims to identify biomarkers in stool samples that may indicate the presence of digestive cancer. This practice is typically done by collecting a sample either at home or in a clinical setting, preserving it, and storing it properly for laboratory analysis.

To fully understand the importance of using fecal specimens in digestive tract cancers, we must understand the different cancers themselves as well as what kinds of information we can find by analyzing each specimen.

What Are Digestive Tract Cancers?

Digestive tract cancers are classified into numerous types, including colon cancer, rectal cancer, esophageal cancer, and gastric, or stomach, cancer. 

All types of digestive tract cancers are serious and can cause life-threatening health complications if left untreated. Colon and rectal cancers are the most common forms of digestive tract cancer, as they affect millions of people around the world.

The significance of digestive tract cancers cannot be understated, as they are responsible for a large number of deaths worldwide. Research into the causes and treatments of digestive tract cancers has accelerated in recent years due to advancements in both diagnosis and treatment.

This research is paramount in order to reduce the number of deaths caused by these devastating cancers and improve the quality of life for those affected. 

As such, fecal specimen collection is an invaluable tool in identifying biomarkers that may indicate the presence of disease. With proper collection and storage, the potential to identify and treat digestive tract cancer in its early stages is greatly increased.

Cancers of the Lower Gastrointestinal Tract: Colon and Rectal Cancer

While the exact causes of colon and rectal cancers remain unknown, there are certain risk factors that may increase one’s chances of developing the disease. These risk factors include age, family history, lifestyle choices such as smoking, and diet. Furthermore, certain genetic mutations have been linked to an increased risk of developing these cancers.

It is important to be aware of these risk factors in order to reduce the chances of developing the disease and seek early treatment if necessary. Many patients are recommended to receive a surveillance colonoscopy as young as 30 or 40 years old to look for cancerous polyps in their digestive tract.

Specific fecal biomarkers such as calprotectin, mucins, and s100A12 have also been linked to colon and rectal cancer. 

Cancers of the Upper Gastrointestinal Tract: Esophageal and Gastric Cancer

While calprotectin, mucins, and s100A12 are typically associated with colon and rectal cancers, research has also identified additional biomarkers associated with esophageal and stomach cancers. CA19-9, GATA6, and miR-21 are all biomarkers that have been found to be elevated in patients with esophageal cancer. 

For stomach cancer, increased levels of CEACAM6, VEGF, and CEA have been observed in stool samples. Like colon and rectal cancers, research into the detection of these biomarkers is ongoing and further studies will be needed to confirm their validity in the diagnosis of digestive tract cancers.

Ultimately, fecal specimen collection allows researchers to use stool tests to identify a wide range of biomarkers in stool samples that may indicate the presence of digestive tract cancer. 

Biomarkers such as immunoglobulins, antigens, and other proteins can be identified and analyzed using lab tests and modern techniques that allow researchers and healthcare clinicians to gain insight earlier in the cancer disease process.

How Do You Collect a Fecal Specimen?

When it comes to collecting a stool specimen, there are several different methods that can be used. A common technique is to use a special stool collection kit, which includes collection containers and collection sticks. 

To perform stool specimen collection using an at-home kit, the patient will collect a small sample of their feces during a regular bowel movement. Under the direction of a healthcare provider, the patient should avoid medications containing antacids, barium, mineral oil, and other laxatives, as these may interfere with the stool culture test results.

The patient should take care that the sample does not come into contact with the toilet bowl. The patient can either deliver the sample directly into a sterile container or place plastic wrap over the toilet seat to capture the sample. 

If the latter method is used, the patient should immediately transfer the sample to a sterile container. The sample kit may include a plastic spoon, which the patient may use to divide the stool sample between containers, if applicable. The collection kit may include additional containers enhanced with preservatives such as formalin.

All containers should be marked with the patient’s name, date of birth, and the time of collection, and then sealed inside a plastic bag to prevent contamination. Samples can be stored at room temperature if they are being delivered immediately; otherwise, patients should refrigerate them until they are able to return the sample.

Fecal specimen collection using an at-home kit is becoming increasingly popular and is an effective, non-invasive way to collect a sample. Collection kits typically come with all the containers and instructions for use, although some patients may be hesitant to consent to this method. 

Though a more invasive method of testing, a colonoscopy may be necessary in order to properly collect a fecal sample. 

During the colonoscopy, a doctor will insert a thin tube with a camera to view the lining of the colon and take a sample. This procedure is more involved and requires more preparation on the part of the patient. 

It is important to inform the patient of the potential risks associated with the procedure, as well as any medications or other preparations that may be necessary, in order to ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the test.

Where To Obtain Fecal Specimens

To obtain fecal specimens prospectively for clinical research, the process typically involves working with a team of medical professionals, such as a gastroenterologist and laboratory technicians. 

As previously mentioned, these stool samples can be collected using at-home kits or during a colonoscopy. It is important to adhere to stringent protocols when collecting and storing fecal specimens to reduce the risk of contamination and variation between samples, and ensure good quality research.

Another way to obtain fecal samples for clinical research is to utilize a biobank or biorepository. A biobank is a collaborative repository of biological samples that are made available for use in research studies. 

Biobanks and biorepositories are typically private, with strict regulations in place to ensure the safety and privacy of the samples. Utilizing a biobank or biorepository can provide researchers with access to a large number of fecal samples, thus enabling them to conduct more comprehensive research.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Fecal Samples in Clinical Research?

The advantages of using fecal samples in clinical research are numerous. Not only does it allow for the detection of biomarkers and other microorganisms, but it also allows researchers to observe changes in the gut microbiome over time. 

Fecal samples can be affordable, easy to collect, and better equipped to provide insights on digestive tract cancer compared to other samples such as blood and urine. Additionally, they can provide valuable insight into dietary habits and lifestyle choices that may be affecting a patient’s health that other biospecimens cannot.

The main disadvantages of using fecal samples in clinical research are the possibility of contamination and failure to capture the health of a patient as a whole. If the samples are not collected and stored properly, there is a chance of contamination with other bacteria or viruses or cross-contamination between samples. 

Fecal specimen collection can certainly be a helpful tool, but it is important to follow proper study and laboratory protocols to reduce the risk of contamination and ensure the accuracy of the results.

The Bottom Line

In recent years, the use of fecal specimens for clinical research has greatly improved the diagnosis and treatment of digestive tract cancers. By providing researchers with access to a large number of fecal samples, researchers are better equipped to study biomarkers, dietary habits, and lifestyle factors that may be linked to the development of different cancers. 

Additionally, scientists have been able to track changes in the microbiome over time, allowing them to better understand how factors such as diet and lifestyle choices can affect a person’s gastrointestinal health and pave the way for more effective treatments in the future.

Working With iProcess Global Research

At iProcess Global Research, you can expect to work with a global network of over 1,000 biospecimen providers. In addition, iProcess has the experience required for even the most challenging research endeavors, having shipped over 100,000 biospecimens. 

Not only can iProcess source the right biospecimens for the research at hand, but they also ensure you work with exceptional teams and operations to provide cutting-edge research in order to help organizations with their clinical trials.

To learn more about how iProcess can take your research to the next level, request a free quote today.


Fecal Occult Blood Test – StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf

Quality Improvement of Sample Collection Increases the Diagnostic Accuracy of Quantitative Fecal Immunochemical Test in Colorectal Cancer Screening: A Pilot Study | PMC 

Gastrointestinal tract cancer screening using fecal carcinoembryonic antigen | PMC 

Performance Comparison Between Plasma and Stool Methylated SEPT9 Tests for Detecting Colorectal Cancer | PMC