The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is now the primary screening test for Albertans aged 50 to 74, and could prevent the need for many average-risk Albertans to have a colonoscopy, an invasive examination of the lining of the colon and rectum. Samples are acquired at home but taken to a lab for testing.
Colorectal is the second-most deadly cancer, behind lung cancer, and one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Alberta. One in 13 men and one in 16 women will develop the deadly form of cancer in their lifetime.
“Every year, nearly 16,400 Albertans are diagnosed with cancer and more than 5,500 people die from this terrible disease,” Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said in January. “The FIT tool will immediately improve our screening for this deadly form of cancer and is another tool in Alberta’s Cancer Plan, which is designed to ensure convenient access to cancer detection and care.”
The province’s goal is to have at least 70 per cent of average-risk Albertans – which represents about one million people from 50 to 74 – taking part in regular screening by 2019, up from 40 per cent today.
But even at the current rates of screening, the new test is expected to detect up to 200 cases a year.
FIT aligns with most provincial population-based colorectal screening programs in Canada and is more accurate than its predecessor test, the guaiac Fecal-Occult Blood Test (gFOBT).
The old test needed to be done over three days and had dietary restraints, whereas the FIT test does not. The new test works by seeking microscopic amounts of blood shed from a polyp or cancer. About 10 per cent of tests turn out positive, but the presence of blood doesn’t always mean cancer is present. It gives the cue that doctors should have a closer look, however.
Dr. Clarence Wong, medical lead of Alberta Health Services’ Alberta Colorectal Health Screening Program, says FIT will not eliminate the need for all colonoscopies. “Patients with positive FIT results are being prioritized and considered urgent cases to have a follow-up colonoscopy,” he said.
Albertans aged 50 to 74 who are considered average risk of developing colorectal cancer should speak to their family doctor or health care professional about where the FIT kits are available.