Objective: Guaiac-based fecal occult blood (FOB) tests, in particular, Hemoccult II (HO), are commonly used to detect colorectal neoplasia. Because the sensitivity and specificity of these tests are critical to cost-effective screening programs, we aimed to investigate the improved performance characteristics of new FOB tests for known colonic lesions.
Methods: Nine centers worldwide performed FOB testing with guaiac-based tests (Hemoccult II [HO] and Hemoccult II SENSA [SENSA]) and immunochemical tests (HemeSelect [HS] and FlexSure OBT [FS]) on 554 patients referred for colonoscopy for predetermined indications. A combination testing strategy consisting of SENSA followed by HS or FS (which was considered positive only when both tests were positive) was also evaluated. Results of FOB tests were compared to findings on colonoscopy.
Results: Cancers were identified in 2.9% of subjects, whereas adenomas > or =10 mm were found in 39 patients. Small adenomas, colitis, and other lesions were identified in 141 patients. The positivity rate of HO for adenomas > or =10 mm was less than for SENSA (20.5% vs 35.9%, p < 0.05), whereas the positivity rate of HO, SENSA, FS, HS, or the combination tests for cancers was not statistically different. The overall positivity rates were significantly greater for FS (15.9%, p = 0.0002) and significantly lower using the combination tests (SENSA/FS 6.0%, p = 0.01; SENSA/HS 6.2%, p = 0.02) compared to HO (9.4%). In this study population, the relative specificity (i.e., true-negative tests/true-negatives + false-positives in patients without adenomas > or =10 mm or cancers) of HO (93.9%; 95% CI, 91.7-96.1) was similar to that of SENSA (92.8%; 95% CI, 90.4-95.2) and HS (90.1%; 95% CI, 87.4-92.8), and greater than FS (88.0%; 95% CI, 85.1-90.9, p < 0.001). When considering adenomas > or =10 mm, cancers alone or cancers and adenomas combined, the combination test using SENSA/FS was associated with significantly fewer false-positive tests than any of the individual tests.
Conclusions: Compared to single tests, the combination test with the highly sensitive SENSA and an immunochemical test had slightly reduced sensitivity but significantly fewer false-positive tests than any single test. These data raise the possibility that a combination test (i.e., highly sensitive guaiac plus immunochemical) could reduce the costs of screening for colon cancer, and suggest that further study of combination test strategies is warranted.