Early detection of colorectal cancer with faecal occult blood test screening

Br J Surg. 2010 Oct;97(10):1567-71. doi: 10.1002/bjs.7150.


Background: Faecal occult blood test (FOBT) screening has been shown to decrease the incidence and mortality from colorectal cancer. This study compared the stage profile of patients with colorectal cancer diagnosed at the first FOBT screening round with that of an unscreened control group.

Methods: Subjects aged 60-64 years were allocated randomly to biennial FOBT screening (52 998 subjects) or a control group (53 002) in a Finnish prospective public health policy in 2004-2006. FOBT was performed with a guaiac test. At the end of 2007 the screened and control populations were linked to the Finnish Cancer Registry database, and the colonoscopic findings in the screen positives were analysed.

Results: Early-stage colorectal cancer was observed in 52 per cent of the FOBT-positive subjects, in 42.2 per cent of the total screened population and in 38 per cent of the control population (P = 0.191 for FOBT positives, P = 0.592 for total screened population). The prevalence of adenomas and colorectal cancer was 31.5 and 8.2 per cent respectively among the 806 subjects with a positive FOBT. Some 27.3 per cent of all colorectal tumours in the screened population were interval cancers. The tumour was located in the right colon in 28.9 per cent of the screened subjects and 22 per cent of controls (P = 0.255).

Conclusion: Biennial FOBT screening improves detection of colorectal cancer at the first screening round, but the high percentage of interval cancers is a cause for concern.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / diagnosis
  • Colonoscopy / methods
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Occult Blood*
  • Patient Compliance