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Eur J Cancer. 1999 Jun;35(6):973-7.

Reducing colorectal cancer mortality by repeated faecal occult blood test: a nested case-control study.

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Division of Digestive Tract Surgery, National Cancer Institute of Milan, Italy.


Randomised trials have shown the efficacy of faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) in reducing colorectal cancer mortality, but observational studies are needed to monitor such efficacy in population programmes. We conducted a nested case-control study on a cohort of 21,879 subjects who participated in a colorectal screening programme from 1978 to 1995, undergoing at least one FOBT test. 95 fatal cases of colorectal cancer were eligible for the study. For each fatal case, 5 non-fatal matched controls were randomly selected from the cohort. FOBT screening history was less common among cases than controls. The odds ratio of colorectal cancer mortality among 'attenders' (defined as those who underwent a second FOBT within 2 years of study entry) with respect to 'non-attenders' was 0.64 (95% confidence interval 0.36-1.15). We also computed odds ratios defining exposure as one or more tests in the detectable preclinical period, hypothesising various lengths for the latter, which, however, yielded an efficacy estimate biased towards the null. A strong inverse relationship was observed between mortality and the number of tests, but this phenomenon is interpretable as 'healthy screenee bias'. The results suggest that the potential efficacy in preventing colorectal cancer mortality through annual FOBT screening may be of the order of one third.

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