A Systematic Review of Repeat Fecal Occult Blood Tests for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Feb;29(2):278-287. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-0775. Epub 2019 Nov 18.


Screening with fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) reduces colorectal cancer mortality. Failure to complete repeat tests may compromise screening effectiveness. We conducted a systematic review of repeat FOBT across diverse health care settings. We searched MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Library for studies published from 1997 to 2017 and reported repeat FOBT over ≥2 screening rounds. Studies (n = 27 reported in 35 articles) measured repeat FOBT as (i) proportion of Round 1 participants completing repeat FOBT in Round 2; (ii) proportion completing two, consecutive FOBT; or (iii) proportion completing ≥3 rounds. Among those who completed FOBT in Round 1, 24.6% to 89.6% completed repeat FOBT in Round 2 [median: 82.0%; interquartile range (IQR): 73.7%-84.6%]. The proportion completing FOBT in two rounds ranged from 16.4% to 80.0% (median: 46.6%; IQR: 40.5%-50.0%), and in studies examining ≥3 rounds, repeat FOBT ranged from 0.8% to 64.1% (median: 39.2%; IQR: 19.7%-49.4%). Repeat FOBT appeared higher in mailed outreach (69.1%-89.6%) compared with opportunistic screening (24.6%-48.6%). Few studies examined correlates of repeat FOBT. In summary, we observed a wide prevalence of repeat FOBT, and prevalence generally declined in successive screening rounds. Interventions that increase and maintain participation in FOBT are needed to optimize effectiveness of this screening strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occult Blood*
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Postal Service
  • Reminder Systems