Simple, cheap test can help save lives from colorectal cancer

Simple, cheap test can help save lives from colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer
Cancer — Histopathologic image of colonic carcinoid. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

New research has demonstrated that a simple, cheap test can help identify who is at risk of developing colorectal cancer, aiding early diagnosis and potentially saving lives.

Led by the University of Exeter, and supported by the Peninsula and the Somerset, Wiltshire, Avon, and Gloucestershire Cancer Alliances, and by the Cancer Research UK CanTest Collaborative, a new study published today in the British Journal of Cancer examined data from nearly 4,000 patients aged 50 and over. The study involved all healthcare providers in the South West of England taking a new approach. Over six months, they provided the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which costs round £4 and can pick up traces of hidden blood in faeces. The test was given to anyone with low-risk symptoms of —that is, symptoms can be caused by bowel but are also very often caused by other things—such as stomach ache, unexplained weight loss, or anaemia. Prior to this, there was no easy to do test available for people with low risk symptoms of colorectal cancer.

From June to December 2018, 3,890 patients received the FIT. Of those, 618 tested positive for blood in their faeces, 43 of whom had received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer within 12 months. In the group that tested negative, only eight were diagnosed with colorectal cancer a year later.

Dr. Sarah Bailey, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study, 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 u

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