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Lower Abnormal Fecal Immunochemical Test Cut-Off Values Improve Detection of Colorectal Cancer in System-Level Screens


Background & aims

Noninvasive tests used in colorectal cancer screening, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), are more acceptable but detect neoplasias with lower levels of sensitivity than colonoscopy. We investigated whether lowering the cut-off concentration of hemoglobin for designation as an abnormal FIT result increased the detection of advanced neoplasia in a mailed outreach program.


We performed a prospective study of 17,017 uninsured patients, age 50 to 64 years, who were not current with screening and enrolled in a safety-net system in Texas. We reduced the cut-off value for an abnormal FIT result from 20 or more to 10 or more μg hemoglobin/g feces a priori. All patients with abnormal FIT results were offered no-cost diagnostic colonoscopy. We compared proportions of patients with abnormal FIT results and neoplasia yield for standard vs lower cut-off values, as well as absolute hemoglobin concentration distribution among 5838 persons who completed the FIT. Our primary aim was to determine the effects of implementing a lower hemoglobin concentration cut-off value on colonoscopy demand and yield, specifically colorectal cancer (CRC) and advanced neoplasia detection, compared with the standard, higher, hemoglobin concentration cut-off value.


The proportions of patients with abnormal FIT results were 12.3% at the 10 or more μg hemoglobin/g feces and 6.6% at the standard 20 or more μg hemoglobin/g feces cut-off value (P = .0013). Detection rates for the lower vs the standard threshold were 10.2% vs 12.7% for advanced neoplasia (P = .12) and 0.9% vs 1.2% for CRC (P = .718). The positive predictive values were 18.9% for the lower threshold vs 24.4% for the standard threshold for advanced neoplasia (P = .053), and 1.7% vs 2.4% for CRC (P = .659). The number needed to screen to detect 1 case with advanced neoplasia was 45 at the lower threshold compared with 58 at the standard threshold; the number needed to scope to detect 1 case with advanced neoplasia increased from 4 to 5. Most patients with CRC (72.7%) or advanced adenoma (67.3%) had hemoglobin concentrations of 20 or more μg/g feces. In the group with 10 to 19 μg hemoglobin/g feces, there were 3 patients with CRC (3 of 11; 27.3%) and 36 with advanced adenoma (36 of 110; 32.7%) who would not have been detected at the standard positive threshold (advanced neoplasia Pcomparison < .001). The proportion of patients found to have no neoplasia after an abnormal FIT result (false positives) was not significantly higher with the lower cut-off value (44.4%) than the standard cut-off value (39.1%) (P = .1103).


In a prospective study of 17,017 uninsured patients, we found that reducing the abnormal FIT result cut-off value (to ≥10 μg hemoglobin/g feces) might increase detection of advanced neoplasia, but doubled the proportion of patients requiring a diagnostic colonoscopy. If colonoscopy capacity permits, health systems that use quantitative FITs should consider lowering the abnormal cut-off value to optimize CRC detection and prevention. ( no: NCT01946282.).

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