Background & aims: Several randomized population-based studies have shown that screening for colorectal cancer (CRC) by fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs) can reduce CRC mortality. The aim of this French population-based study was to assess whether a similar benefit could be obtained in countries characterized by high performances in the diagnosis and management of CRC.
Methods: Small-sized geographic areas, including 91,199 individuals aged 45-74 years, were allocated to either FOBT screening or no screening. Six screening rounds were performed. The FOBT was performed without diet restriction and was sent to a central analysis center and processed without rehydration. Screening group participants who had a positive test result were offered a full colonoscopy. The entire population was followed up for 11 years after study entry.
Results: Acceptability of the test was 52.8% at the first screening round and varied between 53.8% and 58.3% in the successive rounds. Positivity rates were 2.1% initially and 1.4% on average in the successive rounds. CRC mortality was significantly lower in the screening population compared with the control population (mortality ratio, 0.84; 95% confidence interval, 0.71-0.99). The reduction in CRC mortality was more pronounced in those who participated at least once (mortality ratio, 0.67; 95% confidence interval, 0.56-0.81).
Conclusions: Our findings, together with the results of other trials, suggest that biennial screening by FOBTs can reduce CRC mortality regardless of the quality of the health system and support attempts to introduce large-scale screening programs into the general population.