A bowel cancer home test that costs just £4 could save thousands of lives. The kit is already sent out to people over 60 every two years, but scientists say it should be used on those in their fifties to spot early signs of the disease.
Researchers at the University of Exeter examined data from 3,890 patients with low-risk symptoms, which could be confused with a stomach ache or other conditions such as anaemia.
The test detects hidden traces of blood in faeces. In the trial it picked up 618 potential cases, 43 of which led to a diagnosis of bowel cancer within a year. Only eight cases were missed by the faecal immunochemical test, or FIT.
Sarah Bailey, who led the study, said: “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.”
She added: “A logical step would be to evaluate how FIT can be used in hospital settings, to help the NHS recover from the backlog that has built up.”
Dr Bailey said that the success of the study gave good reason to investigate whether the test could be used for people under 50, an age group in which the rate of bowel cancer is increasing.
Requests for urgent colorectal cancer investigations have doubled from 2012 as early detection is crucial. Clinicians are more aware that seemingly low-risk symptoms can later present as an emergency. The disease kills about 45 people every day in the UK.
Dr Jodie Moffat, of Cancer Research UK, said: “FIT is being used for people who don’t have symptoms in the bowel screening programme. So it’s fascinating to see how this test may also be used in patients with low-risk symptoms.
“As with all tests, FIT isn’t perfect and some cases can be missed so it’s important that anyone whose symptoms persist, change or worsen contact their GP, even if they’ve recently had a negative FIT result.”
Dr Joe Mays, of the Peninsula Cancer Alliance said: “The rapid and robust analysis has generated the evidence for doctors to use the FIT test with confidence”