A systematic review of the effects of screening for colorectal cancer using the faecal occult blood test, Hemoccult

Bernie Towler*, Les Irwig, Paul Glasziou, Jan Kewenter, David Weller, Chris Silagy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

433 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To review effectiveness of screening for colorectal cancer with faecal occult blood test, Hemoccult, and to consider benefits and harms of screening. Design: Systematic review of trials of Hemoccult screening, with meta-analysis of results from die randomised controlled trials. Subjects: Four randomised controlled trials and two non-randomised trials of about 330,000 and 113,000 people respectively aged ≤ 40 years in five countries. Main outcome measures: Meta-analysis of effects of screening on mortality from colorectal cancer Results: Quality of trial design was generally high, and screening resulted in a favourable shift in the stage distribution of colorectal cancers in the screening groups. Meta-analysis of mortality results from the four randomised controlled trials showed that those allocated to screening had a reduction in mortality from colorectal cancer of 16% (relative risk 0.84 (95% confidence interval 0.77 to 0.93)). When adjusted for attendance for screening, this reduction was 23% (relative risk 0.77 (0.57 to 0.89)) for people actually screened. If a biennial Hemoccult screening programme were offered to 10,000 people and about two thirds attended for at least one Hemoccult test, 8.5 (3.6 to 13.5) deaths from colorectal cancer would be prevented over a period of 10 years. Conclusion: Although benefits of screening are likely to outweigh harms for populations at high risk of colorectal cancer, more information is needed about the harmful effects of screening, the community's responses to screening, and costs of screening for different healthcare systems before widespread screening can be recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-565
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7158
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes


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