Older age, symptoms, or anemia: Which factors increase colorectal cancer risk with a positive fecal immunochemical test?

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    Background and Aim: Fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) are used to screen asymptomatic individuals aged 50–74 years for colorectal cancer (CRC) within the Australian screening program. Gastrointestinal symptoms or iron deficiency anemia (IDA) may also drive primary care physicians to request a FIT. This study aimed to examine factors that may increase neoplasia risk associated with a positive FIT, specifically age, gastrointestinal symptoms, or IDA. Methods: A retrospective audit was performed on colonoscopies performed in a single hospital in South Australia for a positive FIT (from all referral sources) between 2014 and 2017. Patients aged < 50 years, or who had a colonoscopy in the preceding 5 years, were excluded. A subgroup (n = 198) was evaluated to assess whether age ≥ 75 years, symptoms, or IDA, as well as other demographics, comorbidities, and medications, were associated with risk of neoplasia. Features found to be associated with risk for CRC or high-risk adenoma were examined in the entire cohort using multivariate analysis. Results: Colonoscopies (750/4221, 17.8%) were completed in patients ≥ 50 years for a positive FIT. Of these, 7.6% (n = 57) also had gastrointestinal symptoms, 5.5% (n = 41) IDA, and 13.1% (n = 98) were ≥ 75 years. At colonoscopy, 2.8% (n = 21) were diagnosed with CRC and 23.2% (n = 174) with high-risk adenoma. CRC was more prevalent in ≥ 75 years compared with 50–74 years (7.1% vs 2.1%, P = 0.005), and associated with symptoms (15.8% vs 1.7%, P < 0.001), and IDA (14.6% vs 2.1%, P < 0.001). Multivariate analysis showed that IDA (odds ratio 7.68, P < 0.001) and symptoms (odds ratio 10.37, P < 0.001), but not age, were independent risk factors for CRC. Conclusion: The presence of gastrointestinal symptoms or IDA, independent of age, is associated with an increased risk for CRC following a positive FIT.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1002-1008
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Australia)
    Issue number6
    Early online date12 Oct 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


    • colonoscopy
    • colorectal cancer (CRC)
    • fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
    • iron deficiency anemia (IDA)
    • symptoms


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