Background: Three large randomised trials have shown that screening for colorectal cancer (CRC) using the faecal occult blood test (FOBt) can reduce the mortality from this disease. The largest of these trials, conducted in Nottingham since 1981, randomised 152,850 individuals between the ages of 45 and 74 years to an intervention arm receiving biennial Haemoccult (FOB) test kit or to a control arm. In 2006, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme was launched in England using the FOBt, with the expectation that it will reduce CRC mortality.
Aims: To compare the CRC mortality and incidence in the intervention arm with the control arm after long-term follow-up.
Methods: The 152,850 randomised individuals were followed up through local health records and central flagging (Office for National Statistics).
Results: At a median follow-up of 19.5 years there was a 13% reduction in CRC mortality (95% CI 3% to 22%) in the intervention arm despite an uptake at first invitation of approximately 57%. The CRC mortality reduction in those accepting the first screening test, adjusted for the rate of non-compliers, was 18%. There was no significant difference in mortality from causes other than CRC between the intervention and control arms. Despite removing 615 adenomas >10 mm in size from the intervention arm, there was no significant difference in CRC incidence between the two arms.
Conclusions: Although the reduction in CRC mortality was sustained, further follow-up of the screened population has not shown a significant reduction in the CRC incidence. Moreover, despite the removal of many large adenomas there was no reduction in the incidence of invasive cancer which was independent of sex and site of the tumour.