Faecal immunochemical tests to triage patients with lower abdominal symptoms for suspected colorectal cancer referrals in primary care: a systematic review and cost-effectiveness analysis

Marie Westwood*, Isaac Corro Ramos, Shona Lang, Marianne Luyendijk, Remziye Zaim, Lisa Stirk, Maiwenn Al, Nigel Armstrong, Jos Kleijnen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in the UK. Presenting symptoms that can be associated with CRC usually have another explanation. Faecal immunochemical tests (FITs) detect blood that is not visible to the naked eye and may help to select patients who are likely to benefit from further investigation.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of FITs [OC-Sensor (Eiken Chemical Co./MAST Diagnostics, Tokyo, Japan), HM-JACKarc (Kyowa Medex/Alpha Laboratories Ltd, Tokyo, Japan), FOB Gold (Sentinel/Sysmex, Sentinel Diagnostics, Milan, Italy), RIDASCREEN Hb or RIDASCREEN Hb/Hp complex (R-Biopharm, Darmstadt, Germany)] for primary care triage of people with low-risk symptoms.

Methods: Twenty-four resources were searched to March 2016. Review methods followed published guidelines. Summary estimates were calculated using a bivariate model or a random-effects logistic regression model. The cost-effectiveness analysis considered long-term costs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) that were associated with different faecal occult blood tests and direct colonoscopy referral. Modelling comprised a diagnostic decision model, a Markov model for long-term costs and QALYs that were associated with CRC treatment and progression, and a Markov model for QALYs that were associated with no CRC.

Results: We included 10 studies. Using a single sample and 10 aeg Hb/g faeces threshold, sensitivity estimates for OC-Sensor [92.1%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 86.9% to 95.3%] and HM-JACKarc (100%, 95% CI 71.5% to 100%) indicated that both may be useful to rule out CRC. Specificity estimates were 85.8% (95% CI 78.3% to 91.0%) and 76.6% (95% CI 72.6% to 80.3%). Triage using FITs could rule out CRC and avoid colonoscopy in approximately 75% of symptomatic patients. Data from our systematic review suggest that 22.5-93% of patients with a positive FIT and no CRC have other significant bowel pathologies. The results of the base-case analysis suggested minimal difference in QALYs between all of the strategies; no triage (referral straight to colonoscopy) is the most expensive. Faecal immunochemical testing was cost-effective (cheaper and more, or only slightly less, effective) compared with no triage. Faecal immunochemical testing was more effective and costly than guaiac faecal occult blood testing, but remained cost-effective at a threshold incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of pound 30,000. The results of scenario analyses did not differ substantively from the base-case. Results were better for faecal immunochemical testing when accuracy of the guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBT) was based on studies that were more representative of the correct population.

Limitations: Only one included study evaluated faecal immunochemical testing in primary care; however, all of the other studies evaluated faecal immunochemical testing at the point of referral. Further, validation data for the Faecal haemoglobin, Age and Sex Test (FAST) score, which includes faecal immunochemical testing, showed no significant difference in performance between primary and secondary care. There were insufficient data to adequately assess FOB Gold, RIDASCREEN Hb or RIDASCREEN Hb/Hp complex. No study compared FIT assays, or FIT assays versus gFOBT; all of the data included in this assessment refer to the clinical effectiveness of individual FIT methods and not their comparative effectiveness.

Conclusions: Faecal immunochemical testing is likely to be a clinically effective and cost-effective strategy for triaging people who are presenting, in primary care settings, with lower abdominal symptoms and who are at low risk for CRC. Further research is required to confirm the effectiveness of faecal immunochemical testing in primary care practice and to compare the performance of different FIT assays.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-243
Number of pages236
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - May 2017



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