Background: Sigmoidoscopy may reduce colorectal cancer mortality by identifying both cancers and precursor lesions (including polyps) for treatment; however, evidence regarding the efficacy of this technique as a screening procedure is extremely limited.
Purpose: In the absence of data from randomized controlled trials, we performed a retrospective case-control study to determine if sigmoidoscopy screening is associated with a reduction in colorectal cancer mortality.
Methods: The medical records of 66 members of the Greater Marshfield Community Health Plan (GMCHP) who died of large-bowel cancer from 1979 to 1988 were reviewed for history of screening for colorectal cancer (case subjects). For comparison, the records of 196 GMCHP members of similar gender, age, and enrollment duration were randomly selected for review (control subjects).
Results: History of screening sigmoidoscopy was much less common among case subjects (10%) than among control subjects (30%). Risk for death from colorectal cancer was reduced among individuals having had a single examination by screening sigmoidoscopy (odds ratio = 0.21; 95% confidence interval = 0.08-0.52), compared with the risk for those who never had one. The reduction in risk appeared to be limited to tumors in the rectum and distal colon. Neither fecal occult blood testing nor digital rectal examination was associated with a reduction in colorectal cancer mortality.
Conclusions: These results suggest that screening sigmoidoscopy can substantially reduce mortality from cancers of the rectum and distal colon.