Is an at-home colorectal cancer test possible? Researchers from the University of Exeter and the Cancer Research UK CanTest Collaborative certainly think so. According to a study published recently in the British Journal of Cancer, an inexpensive, at-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) could help rule out colorectal cancer or aid in diagnoses for individuals experiencing low-risk symptoms.
Low-risk symptoms include those such as stomachache, unexplained weight loss, or anemia – in other words, symptoms that could signal colorectal cancer but could also be a sign of many other things. The FIT acts as an early screening tool by detecting traces of blood in the feces samples that individuals collect in the comfort of their own bathrooms.
In conducting this study, 3,890 patients over the age of 50 received the FIT. The test proved to be quite accurate. According to Eureka Alert, “within the group 618 tested positive for blood in their feces, 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. Joe Mays, of the Peninsula Cancer Alliance, noted: "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. Building confidence and familiarity with the test helped us to manage a crisis in endoscopy capacity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We're now keen to evidence the performance of the test in higher-risk populations."
Given that this type of test is already used as a colorectal cancer screening for individuals without symptoms, the researchers are excited by the prospect that FIT could play in a healthcare system that is becoming ever more contact-less.
Dr. Sarah Bailey, of the University of Exeter Medical School, adds: "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."