Fecal occult blood (FOB) tests have been evaluated primarily for the application of colorectal cancer screening. Less is known about the performance characteristics of FOB tests for the evaluation of iron deficiency, the most common other application. As most clinically important occult gastrointestinal bleeding arises from the proximal gut, it is critical that FOB tests target analytes that are stable during the enteric transit. Available data indicate that guaiac-type and immunochemical tests are insensitive for the detection of proximal gut bleeding, and their use may confound the evaluation of iron deficiency. In contrast, the heme porphyrin test is sensitive for both proximal and distal sources of occult gastrointestinal bleeding, and this FOB test would appear to be the most rational selection for use in patients with iron deficiency or anemia. Outcome data are needed to better assess the impact of FOB testing on algorithms for evaluation of iron deficiency.

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