Background: In randomized trials, fecal occult-blood testing reduces mortality from colorectal cancer. However, the duration of the benefit is unknown, as are the effects specific to age and sex.
Methods: In the Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study, 46,551 participants, 50 to 80 years of age, were randomly assigned to usual care (control) or to annual or biennial screening with fecal occult-blood testing. Screening was performed from 1976 through 1982 and from 1986 through 1992. We used the National Death Index to obtain updated information on the vital status of participants and to determine causes of death through 2008.
Results: Through 30 years of follow-up, 33,020 participants (70.9%) died. A total of 732 deaths were attributed to colorectal cancer: 200 of the 11,072 deaths (1.8%) in the annual-screening group, 237 of the 11,004 deaths (2.2%) in the biennial-screening group, and 295 of the 10,944 deaths (2.7%) in the control group. Screening reduced colorectal-cancer mortality (relative risk with annual screening, 0.68; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.56 to 0.82; relative risk with biennial screening, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.65 to 0.93) through 30 years of follow-up. No reduction was observed in all-cause mortality (relative risk with annual screening, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.99 to 1.01; relative risk with biennial screening, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.98 to 1.01). The reduction in colorectal-cancer mortality was larger for men than for women in the biennial-screening group (P=0.04 for interaction).
Conclusions: The effect of screening with fecal occult-blood testing on colorectal-cancer mortality persists after 30 years but does not influence all-cause mortality. The sustained reduction in colorectal-cancer mortality supports the effect of polypectomy. (Funded by the Veterans Affairs Merit Review Award Program and others.).