To determine whether medication interventions enhance the sensitivity and specificity of guaiac-based fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) when screening for colorectal cancer (CRC).
We searched PubMed-MEDLINE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane databases using the MeSH headings occult blood, feces/analysis, and guaiac/analysis, linking them to variations of anticoagulants, heparin, warfarin, iron, aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), clopidogrel, cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Study selections were limited to English studies involving humans.
All resulting titles and abstracts were reviewed for studies that included manipulation of medications associated with guaiac-based FOBT. If the study’s relevance was unclear from the abstract, the full article was reviewed. The search resulted in 31 pertinent studies.
No studies addressed the effects of medication interventions on the sensitivity or specificity of FOBT screening. Randomized controlled trials, however, showed no increase in the rate of positive results among those taking NSAIDs. The literature is mixed regarding the effect of NSAIDs on the positive predictive value of a positive FOBT result, although no change in positive predictive value has been shown for warfarin. Iron will not affect FOBT results in vivo. Ascorbic acid might inhibit positive FOBT results both in vitro and in vivo, but it has not been studied in screening populations.
Studies evaluating the effects of medication intervention on FOBT screening for CRC are limited by their lower quality and because they do not address sensitivity and specificity. Available evidence, however, does not suggest a benefit from withholding NSAIDs, anticoagulant medications, or iron during the screening period. These recommendations should be abandoned in order to maximize adherence to screening. Positive FOBT results obtained among patients taking these medications deserve full evaluation for CRC. Until further studies clarify the effect of ascorbic acid on FOBT screening, withholding this medication before testing seems prudent.