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    Current guidelines document persistent rectal bleeding as an alarm symptom in patients presenting to primary care. We studied whether a faecal immunochemical test could assist in their assessment. From December 2015, faecal immunochemical tests were routinely available to primary care when assessing patients with new-onset bowel symptoms: general practitioners were encouraged to include faecal haemoglobin concentration (f-Hb) within any referral to secondary care. Results with f-Hb ≥10 μg Hb/g faeces were defined as positive. The incidence of significant bowel disease (SBD: colorectal cancer [CRC], higher-risk adenoma [HRA: any ≥1 cm, or three or more] and inflammatory bowel disease [IBD]) at subsequent colonoscopy, referred symptoms and f-Hb were recorded. Of 1447 patients with a faecal immunochemical test result and colonoscopy outcome, SBD was diagnosed in 296 patients (20.5%; 95 with CRC, 133 with HRA, and 68 with IBD). Four hundred and sixty-two patients (31.9%) reported rectal bleeding: 294 had f-Hb ≥10 μg Hb/g faeces. At colonoscopy, 105/294 had SBD versus 14/168 with rectal bleeding and f-Hb <10 μg Hb/g faeces (P < 0.0001), comprising one case of CRC (0.6%), 12 HRA (7.1%) and one new case of IBD (0.6%); further, the single cancer and 8 of the 12 HRA were located in the descending colon. Patients with rectal bleeding and f-Hb <10 μg Hb/g faeces are unlikely to have SBD and could be investigated by sigmoidoscopy alone. Using the faecal immunochemical test to guide investigation of patients with rectal bleeding is a rational and practical way forward.


    Jayne Digby, Judith A Strachan, Rebecca McCann, Robert Jc Steele, Callum G Fraser, Craig Mowat. Measurement of faecal haemoglobin with a faecal immunochemical test can assist in defining which patients attending primary care with rectal bleeding require urgent referral. Annals of clinical biochemistry. 2020 Jul;57(4):325-327

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    PMID: 32482080

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