Objective: To evaluate the value, risks, and shortcomings of immunochemical faecal occult blood tests (iFOBTs) in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer (CRC) and adenomas with high-grade dysplasia (HGD) in patients initially presenting to primary care.
Design: A retrospective population-based study.
Setting and subjects: All 495 cases of CRC and adenomas with HGD diagnosed in the county of Jämtland, Sweden from 2005 to 2009.
Results: Of 495 patients 323 (65%) initially presented to primary care. IFOBTs were performed in 215 of 323 (67%) patients. The sensitivity of iFOBT for CRC and adenomas with HGD was 88% (83% when patients with a history of rectal bleeding were excluded). Of 34 patients with anaemia found en passant, 10 had negative iFOBTs. Time to diagnosis was longer for patients with negative iFOBTs (p < 0.0005).
Conclusion: IFOBT might be helpful in selecting which patients to refer for colonoscopy. However, iFOBT has a limited sensitivity as a diagnostic test for CRC and adenomas with HGD. Relying only on iFOBT for colonoscopy referral could delay diagnosis, especially for patients with anaemia found en passant.