Faecal immunochemical test for patients with ‘high-risk’ bowel symptoms: a large prospective cohort study and updated literature review
Abstract Background We evaluated whether faecal immunochemical testing (FIT) can rule out colorectal cancer (CRC) among patients presenting with ‘high-risk’ symptoms requiring definitive investigation. Methods Three thousand five hundred and ninety-six symptomatic patients referred to the standard urgent CRC pathway were recruited in a multi-centre observational study. They completed FIT in addition to standard investigations. CRC miss rate (percentage of CRC cases with low quantitative faecal haemoglobin [f-Hb] measurement) and specificity (percentage of patients without cancer with low f-Hb) were calculated. We also provided an updated literature review. Results Ninety patients had CRC. At f-Hb < 10 µg/g, the miss rate was 16.7% (specificity 80.1%). At f-Hb < 4 µg/g, the miss rate was 12.2% (specificity 73%), which became 3.3% if low FIT plus the absence of anaemia and abdominal pain were considered (specificity 51%). Within meta-analyses of 9 UK studies, the pooled miss rate was 7.2% (specificity 74%) for f-Hb < 4 µg/g. Discussion FIT alone as a triage tool would miss an estimated 1 in 8 cases in our study (1 in 14 from meta-analysis), while many people without CRC could avoid investigations. FIT can focus secondary care diagnostic capacity on patients most at risk of CRC, but more work on safety netting is required before incorporating FIT triage into the urgent diagnostic pathway.