Objective To determine whether faecal occult blood (FOB) testing in patients with iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) can predict the presence of gastrointestinal cancer.
Design Cohort study.
Settings Single secondary care hospital UK.
Patients All individuals aged 20 years and older referred for the investigation for IDA.
Interventions Data was collected from all the patients regarding haemoglobin (Hb), mean corpuscular volume, age, sex, symptomatology and medication. All patients had FOB tests using laboratory guaiac and haemocell methods, and then underwent gastroscopy and colonoscopy.
Main outcome measures Accuracy, sensitivity and specificity of FOBs for identifying cancer in the upper or lower gastrointestinal tract.
Results In total, 292 patients completed the study; 37 patients were diagnosed with carcinoma (colon 34, gastro-oesophageal 3). Using an optimal combination of lab guiaic and haemocell test resulted in just one colorectal cancer being missed, a sensitivity of 97%, specificity of 49% and negative predictive value of 99%. The test was less effective for upper gastrointestinal cancer, with 2/3 tumours missed by the tests.
Conclusions Patients who have negative FOB tests are very unlikely to have a colorectal cancer, and the benefits to further colonic investigation is limited. This should be carefully considered in patients with significant comorbidities, where the risks of investigation may outweigh the benefits.
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