A future for faecal haemoglobin measurements in the medical laboratory

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    Abstract

    Guaiac-based faecal occult blood tests (gFOBT) are still used in asymptomatic population bowel screening programmes but are being replaced by faecal immunochemical tests (FIT) for haemoglobin. gFOBT have many well-documented disadvantages and there is little evidence for their use in assessment of the symptomatic. Many laboratories have eliminated gFOBT from their approved repertoires by invoking the authoritative published guidelines. Data continue to accumulate that gFOBT are obsolete. FIT are available in two formats, qualitative and quantitative, the latter having advantages that the faecal haemoglobin concentrations are measured and cut-off concentrations that stimulate further investigation can be user-defined. There is growing evidence that FIT would be useful in a spectrum of clinical settings in addition to screening. All laboratories should have FIT in their existing repertoire. For some uses, qualitative FIT would be adequate. However, much evidence has accumulated that measurements of faecal haemoglobin concentrations are beneficial for the assessment of both disease severity and the future risk of colorectal neoplasia. Interpretation requires appreciation that faecal haemoglobin concentrations are higher in men than women and rise with age. It might well be that risk scoring systems that take gender and age into account, possibly with other factors including symptoms, will benefit individuals. Laboratories should consider how quantitative faecal haemoglobin measurements could be brought into routine practice and included in their forward planning. External quality assessment is needed. Specialists in laboratory medicine are urged to play a significant role in the research and development still required to make this a truly mature investigation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)518-526
    Number of pages9
    JournalAnnals of Clinical Biochemistry
    Volume49
    Issue number6
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

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