New cancer home kits ‘could save NHS millions’

Written by Anthony Strzalek

A major study of 6,000 patients in West London is expected to almost halve the number of invasive procedures by 2020 by improving the accuracy of bowel cancer tests.

It could mean more than 100,000 NHS patients in England avoid the need for uncomfortable colonoscopies each year by first getting a reliable ‘all clear’ from a simple at-home test. It could also save the NHS millions, as each colonoscopy costs the NHS £372 compared to about £5 for the new at-home tests.

The research, led by Croydon Health Service NHS Trust (CHS), is England’s largest study into the accuracy of the ‘faecal immunochemical test’ (FIT), both in terms of public participants and the number of sites involved.

The kit’s aim is for people to have a highly reliable and very simple FIT test when they go to GPs with possible bowel cancer symptoms.

FIT predicts bowel cancer by precisely recording the presence of any blood in just one gram of faeces. The study will identify how these levels of blood may vary by age, sex and ethnicity – enabling FIT to give very accurate ‘no bowel cancer’ results, regardless of whom is using it.

The same CHS research team conducted a smaller study in 2016. It estimated that accurate FIT tests would achieve at least a 40 per cent reduction in ‘unnecessary’ colonoscopies across the West London area. It is hoped that NICE FIT will find that a similar success rate is achievable throughout the NHS.

Cally Palmer, national cancer director at NHS England, said: “We are pleased to support this fantastic study that seeks to revolutionise diagnosis for patients with colorectal symptoms.
“This study, and others like it, is a key component of our transformation plans to improve survival by diagnosing cancer earlier and faster. We will be studying the results closely to see how we can best roll this test out nationally.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, added: “This important study will help to increase understanding of how FIT can be used to better identify people in need of a colonoscopy. It is predicted to help to reduce demand on the overstretched endoscopy service across England. The use of FIT in this way should help speed up the diagnostic process for those at greatest risk of developing bowel cancer. Therefore leading to more people being diagnosed early when the disease is most treatable and curable. We will follow the trial with great interest.”