Time to Colonoscopy After Abnormal Stool-Based Screening and Risk for Colorectal Cancer Incidence and Mortality

Gastroenterology. 2021 May;160(6):1997-2005.e3. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.01.219. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Background and aims: The optimal time interval for diagnostic colonoscopy completion after an abnormal stool-based colorectal cancer (CRC) screening test is uncertain. We examined the association between time to colonoscopy and CRC outcomes among individuals who underwent diagnostic colonoscopy after abnormal stool-based screening.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study of veterans age 50 to 75 years with an abnormal fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) between 1999 and 2010. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazards to generate CRC-specific incidence and mortality hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for 3-month colonoscopy intervals, with 1 to 3 months as the reference group. Association of time to colonoscopy with late-stage CRC diagnosis was also examined.

Results: Our cohort included 204,733 patients. Mean age was 61 years (SD 6.9). Compared with patients who received a colonoscopy at 1 to 3 months, there was an increased CRC risk for patients who received a colonoscopy at 13 to 15 months (HR 1.13; 95% CI 1.00-1.27), 16 to 18 months (HR 1.25; 95% CI 1.10-1.43), 19 to 21 months (HR 1.28; 95% CI: 1.11-1.48), and 22 to 24 months (HR 1.26; 95% CI 1.07-1.47). Compared with patients who received a colonoscopy at 1 to 3 months, mortality risk was higher in groups who received a colonoscopy at 19 to 21 months (HR 1.52; 95% CI 1.51-1.99) and 22 to 24 months (HR 1.39; 95% CI 1.03-1.88). Odds for late-stage CRC increased at 16 months.

Conclusions: Increased time to colonoscopy is associated with higher risk of CRC incidence, death, and late-stage CRC after abnormal FIT/FOBT. Interventions to improve CRC outcomes should emphasize diagnostic follow-up within 1 year of an abnormal FIT/FOBT result.

Keywords: Prevention; Quality; Veterans Affairs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Colonoscopy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunochemistry
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Occult Blood
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors