03 Feb 2020

St Helens residents who visit their GP with stomach and bowel problems are now being given a new non-invasive test to complete at home, which can effectively rule out the presence of bowel cancer, meaning that fewer patients with specific symptoms will need to undergo an endoscopy procedure in hospital.

St Helens residents who visit their GP with stomach and bowel problems that could indicate the presence of bowel cancer, will from February, be given a new non-invasive test to do at home, meaning that fewer people will need to undergo an endoscopy procedure in hospital as the simple test can effectively rule out the presence of bowel cancer among patients with specific lower abdominal symptoms.

FIT (Symptomatic Faecal Immunochemical Testing) testing is a six month pilot thanks to funding from the Cheshire & Merseyside Cancer Alliance (CMCA) given to St Helens & Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and NHS St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group.  The CMCA has funded 3000 kits for use in GP practices across St Helens for any low or high risk patients who present with gastrointestinal symptoms including stomach complaints, pain, discomfort or changes in bowel habit.

The FIT test is similar to the bowel screening programme and patients who are referred for the test by their GP are sent a kit in the post to collect a small poo sample which they then return to the GP practice who send it to the labs at STHK. 

The FIT test can pick up tiny amounts of blood in poo and a positive FIT test will show that that bleeding has occurred somewhere in the bowel. This can be an early sign of bowel cancer, as well as other problems such as stomach ulcers and inflammation in the bowel.  The results of the FIT test will make sure that people who are at high risk of bowel cancer are seen quickly and that patients with normal test results avoid unnecessary hospital investigations and appointments.

Dr Hilary Flett, GP lead for planned care and Governing Body member at NHS St Helens CCG, said: “I am positive that the FIT test will revolutionise the way GPs refer patients who present with symptoms of bowel cancer.  The test is quick and easy to do at home and can quickly rule out the possibility of cancer and enable us to diagnose and treat whatever the problem is.”

Dr Ash Bassi, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Clinical Lead for Endoscopy, Cheshire and Merseyside, said: “Evidence has shown that using FIT testing has the potential to reduce overall endoscopy demand by 28% in St Helens which is great as endoscopy units such as ours are struggling to cope with the numbers of people being referred and the waits are long which can be stressful for patients and not ideal when time can be of the essence in terms of diagnosing and treating cancers.  The FIT test will help reduce unnecessary endoscopies, improve the patient experience, detect early cancer and also increase our endoscopy capacity for those who do need to undergo such a crucial diagnostic test.”

GPs in St Helens have received information and training from Cancer Research UK facilitators to ensure that patients with low and high risk symptoms are correctly referred.

Dr Flett added: “Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy.

“Most people with these symptoms won’t have bowel cancer and other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, please go and see your GP and the FIT test can help us diagnose and treat you.”