Bowel cancer ranks among the most prevalent forms of cancer, making early detection paramount. With an early diagnosis, the odds of successful treatment and cure skyrocket. But here lies the conundrum: bowel cancer often lacks conspicuous symptoms. Generally, suspected cases face invasive, unpleasant, and time-consuming diagnostic procedures.
However, a brighter alternative may be on the horizon.
Currently, a test known as the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is used to identify traces of blood in bowel movements, a possible sign of bowel cancer. While effective, the FIT isn’t infallible—it correctly identifies bowel cancer in approximately 84% of cases. Those who test positive are typically referred for a colonoscopy, an invasive procedure that demands substantial time and resources from healthcare systems.
A groundbreaking new study suggests a surprisingly straightforward solution: conducting two FITs, spaced just 13 days apart. This uncomplicated adjustment improved diagnosis accuracy to a remarkable 96%. Moreover, the study reveals that patients receiving two consecutive negative FIT results possess an exceedingly low risk (0.17%) of having bowel cancer, potentially eliminating the need for a colonoscopy. Since FIT tests are both less costly and less stressful, this could be a game-changer for patient care.
Study author Farhat Din from the University of Edinburgh explained:
“Our study highlights how to maximize use of FIT in symptomatic patients. The use of two FIT tests will miss less bowel cancer with a positive impact on patient care. Locally, implementation of the double-FIT strategy has led to a reduction in endoscopy without adversely affecting cancer detection rates.”
Commenting on the paper, Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Someone dies from bowel cancer every 30 minutes in the UK, making it the second-biggest cancer killer but it is treatable and curable if diagnosed early.
“Finding new ways to diagnose bowel cancer more quickly and accurately is key to saving thousands of lives. This study adds to a growing body of evidence that FIT can be highly effective at identifying people in greatest need of further diagnostic tests.”
Whether or not the new approach will be included in the UK (where the study was carried out) or elsewhere, but it’s promising that such a simple approach can make a significant difference.