An urgent referral strategy for symptomatic patients with suspected colorectal cancer based on a quantitative immunochemical faecal occult blood test

Dig Liver Dis. 2015 Sep;47(9):797-804. doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2015.05.004. Epub 2015 May 15.


Background: European health systems have developed referral guidelines for the selection of patients for the urgent investigation of suspected colorectal cancer.

Aim: To evaluate whether quantitative faecal immunochemical testing performs better than commonly used high-risk symptoms based strategies for fast-tracking cancer referrals.

Methods: We prospectively studied 1054 symptomatic patients referred for a colonoscopy who provided a sample for faecal immunochemical testing. The usefulness of faecal immunochemical testing and two current guidelines for urgent referral were compared for their efficacy in the detection of colorectal cancer and advanced neoplasia.

Results: The guidelines detected 46.7% and 43.3% of cases of colorectal cancer while faecal haemoglobin concentration ≥15μg Hb/g detected 96.7% of cases. The diagnostic accuracy of both the guidelines and faecal haemoglobin concentration ≥15μg Hb/g for the detection of advanced neoplasia was: sensitivity 38.3%, 36.1%, 57.1% and specificity 71.8%, 69.5%, 86.6%, respectively. Male gender (OR 2.35; p<0.001), age (1.34; p=0.002), and faecal haemoglobin concentration ≥10μg Hb/g (7.81; p<0.001) were independent predictive factors of advanced neoplasia.

Conclusions: A faecal immunochemical test based-strategy performs better than current high-risk symptoms based strategies for fast-tracking cancer referrals. A score that combines gender, age and a faecal immunochemical test could accurately estimate the risk of advanced neoplasia.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Diagnostic accuracy study; Faecal immunochemical test; Fast-track referral.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colonoscopy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occult Blood*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Prospective Studies
  • ROC Curve
  • Referral and Consultation / standards*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity