Beating bowel cancer together

FIT could be used to help diagnose younger people with bowel cancer suggests new research

Friday 9 July 2021

A new study has found that increasing the sensitivity of the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) can help to identify more cases of bowel cancer, advanced polyps (non-cancerous growths) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in younger people when they attend their GP practice with symptoms.

The research by Mr Nigel D'Souza and colleagues, found the number of patients who had both larger amounts of blood detected in their poo and who were diagnosed with serious bowel diseases (including bowel cancer), supports a need for an urgent care pathway for younger patients. This may help avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Testing younger patients with FIT when they first present with non-specific symptoms of bowel cancer may also prevent delayed diagnosis by reducing the number of times they need to attend GP appointments.

We worked closely with the researchers in this study and co-authored the research paper, and also provided evidence from our Never Too Young report, to ensure the voices of younger people with bowel cancer were heard.

What is FIT?

FIT is a test that looks for hidden blood in poo. If blood is detected in a sample, further tests may be needed to find out the cause of the bleeding. You may have FIT if you have some symptoms of bowel cancer.

It is also used in the bowel cancer screening programmes across the UK for people over the age of 50 or 60, depending on where you live in the UK.

Why is this research important?

Every year over 2,500 younger people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK, and the numbers are rising.

Diagnosing younger people with bowel cancer can be difficult. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be caused by other health problems such as haemorrhoids or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Unfortunately, this means that some younger people have had to visit their doctor multiple times before being referred for investigation for bowel cancer.

Our report surveyed over a thousand young people living with bowel cancer. It found:

  • Four in 10 people had to visit their GP three or more times before being referred for further tests
  • More than six in 10 people were initially given an incorrect diagnosis
  • Over seven in 10 people didn’t suspect their symptoms could be caused by bowel cancer
  • Three in 10 people delayed seeing their GP for up to three months.

What are we doing?

Our Never Too Young campaign was launched in 2013 and is leading the change for younger bowel cancer patients. Since then we have:

  • Been instrumental in changing NICE guidelines to include people under the age of 50 for the first time
  • Partnered with universities and hospitals to publish a risk assessment tool to support GPs to identify the symptoms of a serious bowel condition for patients under 50
  • Funded lifesaving research to understand how we can diagnose younger people with bowel cancer more quickly. Understanding bowel cancer in the under 50s is one of our key areas of focus in our research strategy
  • Published a booklet specifically for younger patients containing information about fertility, genetic risk, and the impact on young children, family and working life.

We are really pleased that research into the treatment and care of this relatively small patient group is under way, when bowel cancer cases in adults under the age of 50 are slowly increasing. More needs to be done to ensure younger bowel cancer patients are diagnosed early and provided with the treatment and care that they desperately need.

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