Early colon cancer screening test for average-risk patients temporarily suspended

Vancouver — Fecal immunochemical testing, or FIT, part of the early screening process for colon cancer, has been suspended temporarily for BC residents to ensure tests meet performance standards.

All lab providers in BC have suspended testing after identifying a manufacturer problem with the liquid solution used to test the FIT samples, also known as a reagent.

“Patient safety and quality of care are our top priorities,” said Dr. John Spinelli, vice-president of population oncology at BC Cancer Agency. “We’re exercising an abundance of caution to ensure that British Columbians receive a screening test that performs as expected.”

FIT is a routine screening test recommended for men and women between the ages of 50 and 74. It detects blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colon cancer. Patients with abnormal test results are referred for a follow-up colonoscopy.

“Patients with a family history of colon cancer or with symptoms that may indicate cancer will not be affected by this test suspension,” said Spinelli. “FIT is designed for people considered at average risk of colon cancer. If you are at high risk of colon cancer due to a strong family history or personal history of adenomas, your doctor can still refer you to the Colon Screening Program for colonoscopy. If you are experiencing symptoms, please speak with your primary care provider, who will work to ensure you get the care you need.”

Symptoms or factors that put people at greater risk of colon cancer include

  • One first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son) with colon cancer diagnosed under the age of 60; or
  • Two or more first degree relatives with colon cancer diagnosed at any age; or,
  • A personal history of adenomas.

Colonoscopy for patients who require it is still available province-wide.

The lab providers are working to resolve this temporary suspension as quickly as possible and will have a better idea of timing in the next few weeks; however, early estimates indicate that it could take a number of months for FIT testing to resume.

Patients with a requisition for a FIT will not receive a collection kit until testing resumes. If patients have already submitted a specimen, it will be disposed of safely. Patients who have recently submitted tests to a laboratory, but have not yet received results, will need to be retested, once testing resumes. Patients who recently received a positive result should continue to follow the steps outlined in their notification. A positive result does not necessarily mean a cancer diagnosis and next steps, including referral for colonoscopy, can be discussed with a primary care provider. People who received notification of a negative result will receive a reminder about retesting at the appropriate time.

The Colon Screening Program is committed to providing the public with up to date information on the program. Visit screeningbc.ca/colon to review our frequently asked questions and to find out when testing will once again be available.

The BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is committed to reducing the incidence of cancer, reducing the mortality from cancer and improving the quality of life of those living with cancer. It provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit www.bccancer.ca or follow us on Twitter @BCCancer_Agency.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.