Background: Introduction of organised, population-based, colorectal cancer screening in the United Kingdom using the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) has the potential to reduce overall colorectal cancer mortality. However, socio-economic variation in screening participation could exacerbate existing inequalities in mortality.
Methods: This study examined FOBT uptake rates in London, England in relation to area-level socio-economic deprivation over the first 30 months of the programme during which 401 197 individuals were sent an FOBT kit. Uptake was defined as return of a completed test kit within 3 months. Area-level deprivation in each postcode sector was indexed with the Townsend Material Deprivation Index. Analyses controlled for area-level household mobility, ethnic diversity and poor health, each of which was associated with lower return rates.
Results: The results showed a strong socio-economic gradient in FOBT uptake, which declined from 49% in the least deprived quintile of postcodes to 38% in the middle quintile and 32% in the most deprived quintile. Variation in socio-economic deprivation between sectors accounted for 62% of the variance in return rates, with little attenuation as a result of controlling for ethnic diversity, household mobility or health status.
Conclusion: These results highlight the need to understand the causes of socio-economic gradients in screening participation and address barriers that could otherwise increase disparities in colorectal cancer survival.