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New test could increase participation in bowel cancer screening

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A large pilot study of a new bowel cancer screening test has demonstrated a major increase in participation rates across population groups, according to UK researchers.

The new test is called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and only requires one stool sample, while three are required for the current guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBt).

FIT uses a simple and cleaner sampling technique and comes in an easy-return postal package.

It also eliminates potential dietary interference and can measure very low concentrations of stool blood from bleeding colon cancers and pre-cancers.

“These results provide real encouragement that FIT can further improve our ability to increase screening uptake”

Sara Hiom

Scotland has recently committed to the adoption of FIT and it is also recommended in the European Guideline for colorectal cancer screening.

The pilot of FIT in 40,000 people in the North West, Midlands and the South of England showed almost double the uptake with FIT than with gFOBt for those who had previously chosen not to participate in screening.

Uptake rose from 14.5% to 25.6% in this group, said the researchers from Queen Mary University of London.

Marked improvement in uptake was also observed in 60-year-olds invited for the first time – an increase from 54.4% to 63.9%. For men of all ages, there was a rise in participation from 57% to 65.5%.

The study authors also found improvement in uptake among the “hard to reach” deprived population as well as among the least deprived.

The new data was being presented at Cancer Research UK’s early diagnosis conference in London.

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at the charity, said: “These results provide real encouragement that FIT can further improve our ability to increase screening uptake and detect bowel cancer early.” 

She said Cancer Research UK now recommended that bowel screening programmes should combine flexible sigmoidoscopy with FIT.

“We know that Scotland has already committed to upgrading their screening programme, and we urge the other UK nations to do the same without delay,” she added.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Currently only around half of those invited take part in the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

“These exciting results clearly show that introducing the FIT test as part of the screening programme could help address that,” she said.

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