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Simple, cheap test can help save lives from colorectal cancer

Tuesday January 19th 2021

A simple and cheap test can help to identify individuals who are at risk of developing colorectal cancer, new UK research reveals today.

A study, led by the University of Exeter, UK, has shown for the first time that an easy-to-do test, which costs about £4, can be used for people with low risk symptoms of colorectal cancer.

The research, published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Cancer, involved all healthcare providers in the South West of England and saw researchers examining data from nearly 4,000 patients aged 50 and over.

From June to December 2018, the healthcare providers were provided the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which can pick up traces of hidden blood in faeces, to give to individuals with low-risk symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Over the study period, 3,890 patients received the FIT, of whom 618 tested positive for blood in their faeces and 43 of whom had received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer within 12 months. In the group that tested negative, eight were diagnosed with colorectal cancer a year later.

Study leader Dr Sarah Bailey, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Our findings are very exciting - we show that this simple and inexpensive test performs exceptionally well in this group of patients with low-risk symptoms, to quickly and accurately tell us who is likely to not have colorectal cancer, and who should be referred for investigation.

“At a time when hospital services face a backlog as a result of COVID-19 measures, making this decision quickly can ensure the right people are investigated and treated as quickly as possible, which can help save lives.

“We know that FIT has accelerated interest in how FIT can be used in other patients, such as those with symptoms that have a higher risk of being colorectal cancer and we are now calling for FIT to be evaluated for use across the entire healthcare spectrum, not just in primary care, and in combination with other clinical markers of cancer such as blood test results.”

Dr Joe Mays, of the Peninsula Cancer Alliance, which brings together leaders from different hospital trusts to improve cancer diagnosis and care in their area, said: “The rapid and robust analysis has generated the evidence for doctors to use the FIT test with confidence. This led to a reduction in the expected rates of colonoscopy, and helped us build a business case for the ongoing commissioning of this service.”

Diagnostic performance of 1 a faecal immunochemical test for patients with low-risk 2 symptoms of colorectal cancer in primary care: an evaluation in the South West of England. British Journal of Cancer 19 January 2021

Tags: Cancer | Gastroenterology | UK News

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