This simple, cheap test can help save lives from colorectal cancer

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In a new study, researchers found that a simple, cheap test can help identify who is at risk of developing colorectal cancer, aiding early diagnosis and potentially saving lives.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Exeter.

In the study, the team examined data from nearly 4,000 patients aged 50 and over.

Over six months, they provided the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which costs around £4 and can pick up traces of hidden blood in feces.

The test was given to anyone with low-risk symptoms of colorectal cancer—that is, symptoms can be caused by bowel cancer but are also very often caused by other things—such as stomach ache, unexplained weight loss, or anemia.

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 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.

The findings 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.

Colorectal cancer has a high mortality rate—each year, 1.8 million cases are diagnosed worldwide, and the disease causes global 900,000 deaths annually.

Requests for urgent colorectal cancer investigations have more than doubled from 2012.

This is in part because of awareness among clinicians that seemingly low-risk symptoms can later present as an emergency, with the lowest cancer survival.

One author of the study is Dr. Sarah Bailey.

The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

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