FOB test: A painless test for the early diagnosis of colon cancer

by Kyriakos Yiannoukas*

March has been established as the month of colon cancer awareness, aiming to inform and sensitize the public about the third most frequent cancer in both men and women in Cyprus, with approximately 395 new cases being recorded each year in our country.

Globally, 1.3 million people are diagnosed with colon cancer annually. Unfortunately, in most cases, there are no symptoms, not until it reaches an advanced stage, which is why international and European scientific organizations focus on prevention/early diagnosis through population screening, which includes lifesaving tests, especially for individuals who are at increased risk.

The awareness campaigns conducted by the state, as well as by associations/organizations, seem to be adequately effective in achieving their purpose. People today are quite well- informed regarding the symptoms they need to watch out for, as they may be related to colon cancer. However, regarding the tests, from our daily interaction with many patients, we find that the majority are more familiar with colonoscopy than other less invasive tests, such as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT/FIT).

The clinician always decides the type of examinations, depending on the patient’s symptoms, age, medical history, and other factors. It is extremely important to mention that most colon cancers initially develop as polyps and later evolve into cancer. Therefore, the early detection of a polyp and its removal prevents colon cancer. The detection of cancer at an early stage is lifesaving for the patient since, according to available statistical data, 90% of cases can be treated if diagnosed early.

Due to the frequency of colon cancer and the need for early diagnosis, the FOB Test has also been integrated into the arsenal of the medical community, which is conducted in clinical laboratories and, over the years, is gaining more ground at the level of screening. This is a simple, painless, and reliable method that can detect latent bleeding in the stool, namely, trace amounts of blood that are not visible to the naked eye. In cases of a positive result, the doctor will recommend further investigation, while in the case of a negative result, an annual repetition of the examination is advised.

The FOB test does not replace colonoscopy, which is considered the primary method of early detection of colon cancer. However, it is offered as an initial, painless examination that can detect the cancer at early stages, before symptoms appear.

The patients provide a small sample of feces to the laboratory, which are then examined via the test kit.

Colon cancer can be prevented and treated if diagnosed early. This message should reach everyone. It is a matter of proper information and timely action to no longer see advanced colon cancers, when all the tools for its prevention and early diagnosis are available.

*Biochemist, President of Yiannoukas Medical Laboratories, BIOIATRIKI Healthcare Group in Cyprus