Aim: To study the epidemiologic indicators of uptake and characteristic colonoscopic findings in the Croatian National Colorectal Cancer Screening Program.
Methods: Colorectal cancer (CRC) was the second leading cause of cancer mortality in men (n = 1063, 49.77/100,000), as well as women (n = 803, 34.89/100,000) in Croatia in 2009. The Croatian National CRC Screening Program was established by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and its implementation started in September, 2007. The coordinators were recruited in each county institute of public health with an obligation to provide fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) to the participants, followed by colonoscopy in all positive cases. The FOBT was performed by hypersensitive guaiac-based Hemognost card test (Biognost, Zagreb). The test and short questionnaire were delivered to the home addresses of all citizens aged 50-74 years consecutively during a 3-year period. Each participant was required to complete the questionnaire and send it together with the stool specimen on three test cards back to the institute for further analysis. About 4% FOBT positive cases are expected in normal risk populations. A descriptive analysis was performed.
Results: A total of 1,056,694 individuals (born between 1933-1945 and 1952-1957) were invited to screening by the end of September 2011. In total, 210,239 (19.9%) persons returned the envelope with a completed questionnaire, and 181,102 of them returned it with a correctly placed stool specimen on FOBT cards. Until now, 12,477 (6.9%), FOBT-positive patients have been found, which is at the upper limit of the expected values in European Guidelines for Quality Assurance in CRC Screening and Diagnosis [European Union (EU) Guidelines]. Colonoscopy was performed in 8541 cases (uptake 66%). Screening has identified CRC in 472 patients (5.5% of colonoscopied, 3.8% of FOBT-positive, and 0.26% of all screened individuals). This is also in the expected range according to EU Guidelines. Polyps were found and removed in 3329 (39% of colonoscopied) patients. The largest number of polyps were found in the left half of the colon: 64% (19%, 37% and 8% in the rectum, sigma, and descendens, respectively). The other 36% were detected in the proximal part (17% in the transverse colon and 19% in ceco-ascending colon). Small polyps in the rectum (5-10 mm in diameter), sigmoid and descending colon were histologically found to be tubular adenomas in 60% of cases, with a low degree of dysplasia, and 40% were classified as hyperplastic. Polyps of this size in the transverse or ceco-ascending colon in almost 20% had a histologically villous component, but still had a low degree of dysplasia. Polyps sized 10-20 mm in diameter were in 43% cases tubulovillous, and among them, 32% had areas with a high degree of dysplasia, especially those polyps in the ceco-ascending or transverse part. The characteristics of the Croatian CRC Screening National Program in the first 3 years were as follows: relatively low percentage of returned FOBT, higher number of FOBT-positive persons but still in the range for population-based programs, and higher number of pathologic findings (polyps and cancers).
Conclusion: These results suggest a need for intervention strategies that include organizational changes and educational activities to improve awareness of CRC screening usefulness and increase participation rates.
Keywords: Colonoscopy; Colorectal cancer screening; Croatian National Colorectal Cancer Screening Program; Fecal occult blood testing; Uptake.