Background: Hemoccult II, a widely used guaiac test for fecal occult blood, has a low sensitivity for detecting colorectal neoplasms in asymptomatic patients at average risk. In such patients, the performance characteristics of screening tests developed to improve on Hemoccult II are not known.
Methods: A set of three fecal occult-blood tests--Hemoccult II; Hemoccult II Sensa, a more sensitive guaiac test; and HemeSelect, an immunochemical test for human hemoglobin--was mailed to all patients 50 years of age or older who were scheduled for personal health appraisals at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, California. The performance of each test and of a combination test (HemeSelect to confirm positive Hemoccult II Sensa results) was evaluated by identifying screened patients who had colorectal neoplasma (carcinoma or a polyp > or = 1 cm in diameter) in the two years after screening.
Results: Of the 10,702 eligible patients, 8104 (75.7 percent) had at least one interpretable sample and were screened on the basis of at least one test; 96 percent of these patients had complete two-year follow-up. The sensitivity of the tests for detecting carcinoma was lowest with Hemoccult II (37.1 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 19.7 to 54.6 percent), intermediate with the combination test (65.6 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 47.6 to 83.6 percent) and with HemeSelect (68.8 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 51.1 to 86.4 percent), and highest with Hemoccult II Sensa (79.4 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 64.3 to 94.5 percent). The specificity for detecting carcinoma was 86.7 percent with Hemoccult II Sensa, 94.4 percent with HemeSelect, 97.3 percent with the combination test, and 97.7 percent with Hemoccult II. HemeSelect and the combination test detected more colorectal carcinomas and polyps than Hemoccult II, with only slight increases in the number of colonoscopies needed.
Conclusions: HemeSelect and a combination test in which HemeSelect is used to confirm positive Hemoccult II Sensa results improve on Hemoccult II in screening patients for colorectal carcinoma.