Colorectal cancer does not always cause symptoms. And even when it does, the symptoms (stomachache, unexplained weight loss, etc.) are often low-risk, which means that the symptoms can be caused by colorectal cancer but are also very often caused by other things.
While it is essential to have regular screening tests to prevent colon cancer, the latest research shows that a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) can facilitate diagnosis and treatment before colorectal cancer develops or spreads.
The FIT is newer, simpler, and non-invasive
There are many colorectal cancer screening tests, such as guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT), as well as invasive endoscopies including flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. Usually, a screening test starts from a stool-based test and a positive result from the test would require a follow-up endoscopy.
The FIT, also called an immunochemical fecal occult blood test (iFOBT), is a newer kind of stool test that detects occult (hidden) blood in the stool. The detection of hidden blood is important because it can be a sign of colorectal polyps or cancers.
The FIT is done basically the same way as the traditional gFOBT, but it is easier since there are no drug or dietary restrictions. Also, it may require as few as one stool sample, instead of three for a gFOBT. The FIT test is less likely to react to bleeding from parts of the upper digestive tract, such as the stomach, which can increase accuracy.
A new study led by the University of Exeter verified that the FIT could help identify who needs further investigation among those with low-risk symptoms of colorectal cancer. The research included nearly 4,000 patients aged 50 and over, of whom 3,890 received the FIT from June to December in 2018.
Six hundred and eighteen of them tested positive for blood in the stool, among whom forty-three had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer within a year. In those who tested negative, only eight were diagnosed with colorectal cancer a year later.
Besides, it is worth noting that FIT only costs around $6 (£4), and Medicare covers FIT once a year for individuals 50 and over.
The FIT is effective but not perfect
There is no single “best test” for anyone. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. It should be noted that the performance of FIT is not known yet among those at increased risk for colorectal cancer. You may need to be tested earlier than 50, or more often than other people, if you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
What’s more, FIT is not 100% accurate and some cases may be missed in clinical practice. Therefore, you need to consult your doctor when your symptoms persist or worsen and talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.
Prevention costs less but benefits you more
The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases when you are aging. If you are aged 45 or older, it is necessary to start getting screened for colorectal cancer.
Although there is no sure way to prevent colorectal cancer, and the most effective prevention for colorectal cancer is early detection and treatment, there are many factors you can pay attention to in daily life.
Avoid lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of colorectal cancer, including lack of regular physical activity, a diet low in fruit and vegetables, a low-fiber and high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats, overweight and obesity, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. A healthy life starts from a healthy lifestyle.