Beating bowel cancer together

New research recommends using FIT for people with bowel cancer symptoms

Friday 23 October 2020

New research published in GUT journal has found that people with symptoms of bowel cancer who are eligible for an urgent two week wait referral could benefit from having a highly sensitive faecal immunochemical test (FIT) to help detect or rule out bowel cancer.

The research, carried out by expert clinicians across 50 NHS hospitals, suggests that asking people with symptoms of bowel cancer to complete a FIT, at a very sensitive level of 2 ug/g, is almost as effective as having a colonoscopy – the gold standard for diagnosing the disease.

Using FIT in this way could also help alleviate the pressure on the NHS endoscopy units, as the research shows that it could reduce referrals by 60% if used at the most sensitive level. One of the benefits of FIT is that the sensitivity level can be adjusted to meet colonoscopy capacity.

NHS endoscopy units were already over stretched at the start of the year, with too many people waiting too long for urgent investigations, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit hard. The NHS took the difficult decision to pause diagnostic services during lockdown, which has worsened the situation and now there is a huge backlog of patients waiting for an endoscopy procedure.

The lack of endoscopy capacity is the single biggest barrier to delivering world-class cancer care for bowel cancer patients.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “This research has the potential to be a game changer for bowel cancer services. FIT can be used to both rule out bowel cancer and prioritise those who urgently need further tests, whilst at the same time reducing pressure on colonoscopy services.

“NHS endoscopy units have been over stretched for a number of years, with demand for colonoscopy sky rocketing over the last five years. Although we are now beginning to see diagnostic tests resume many places, there is a huge backlog which is leading to people waiting longer than necessary for this vital test. The research suggests FIT could play a vital role in alleviating some of this pressure.

“We urge NICE to immediately review the research and update their guidance to help people with symptoms of bowel cancer quickly rule out or diagnose the disease, so they can start treatment early when it has the best chance of working.”

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