Simple test detects most bowel cancers

In collaboration with the Press Association

A simple test performed at home and sent away for analysis could help detect more cases of bowel cancer than the current UK screening programme, according to a US study.

“We’re really pleased that the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme plans to pilot the use of FIT in the spring 2014" - Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK

Faecal immunochemical tests or FITs detected around four out of five bowel cancers and were also able to spot if people don’t have the disease in over nine out of 10 cases.

Scientists from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research looked at 19 studies of eight different FITs. The tests – which analyse a stool sample – can be done at home and do not require people to restrict their diet or stop taking medication.

FITs performed better than the test currently used in the UK to analyse stool samples - called the faecal occult blood test (FOBT). 

Studies indicate that FOBT detects about 13 to 50 per cent of cancers after a single test. Whereas FITs detected 79 per cent of cancers with only one round of testing.

This latest study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, also showed that a single FIT successfully gave a negative result in 94 per cent of people who did not have cancer.

Dr Beth Liles, study author and clinical investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center in Portland, Oregon, said: "We know the FIT is easy to use, and now we also know that it is a great tool for assessing which patients have cancer and which patients don't."

Further screening options for bowel cancer include a physical examination of the entire bowel, known as colonoscopy.

Over 40,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. And it is responsible for more than 15,000 UK deaths annually. 

The current UK bowel cancer screening programme uses FOBT followed by colonoscopy in the case of an abnormal stool test result.

The NHS plans to pilot the use of FIT in the spring 2014, said Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy development.

“We’re really pleased...this pilot should be very useful in answering some of the outstanding questions around cost-effectiveness and practicalities of using FIT. We would like to see further details of these plans, as well as details of how the test could be made available to the rest of the UK if the pilots are successful”, she added.

Following promising clinical trial results, another new bowel screening test, called flexible sigmoidoscopy or Bowel Scope, is being introduced in England as part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

Greenwood emphasised the potential of Bowel Scope saying that its introduction in England as a one-off test at 55 has the potential to save up to 3000 lives per year once fully implemented.

Copyright Press Association 2014


  • Lee J.K, et al. (2014). Accuracy of Fecal Immunochemical Tests for Colorectal Cancer, Annals of Internal Medicine, 160 (3) 171-181. DOI: