Colorectal cancer screening


Michael Bretthauer MD, PhD, Centre for Colorectal Cancer Screening, The Cancer Registry of Norway, Oslo University Hospital, Postbox 5313 Majorstuen, 0304 Oslo, Norway.


Abstract.  Bretthauer M (Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway). Colorectal cancer screening (Review). J Intern Med 2011; 270: 87–98.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cause of cancer death worldwide and a major health problem. In this review, the different approaches for CRC screening will be outlined with emphasis on evidence-based medicine. Evidence from randomized trials on the effectiveness of CRC screening is summarized. Several screening tools for CRC are available. They can be categorized according to their mode of action: early detection tools such as the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) and cancer prevention tools such as flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. Meta-analyses of randomized trials show that FOBT screening reduces CRC mortality by 16% (risk ratio 0.84; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.78–0.9) compared with 30% (risk ratio 0.7; 95% CI 0.6–0.81) for flexible sigmoidoscopy screening. FOBT screening is cheap and noninvasive, but results in large numbers of false-positive tests and needs to be repeated frequently. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is more invasive, but is effective for once-only screening. Although colonoscopy screening is used in some countries, no randomized trials have been conducted to estimate its benefit, and therefore, it should not be recommended at the present time. Faecal occult blood test and flexible sigmoidoscopy are the two CRC screening tools that can be recommended as they have been proven to reduce CRC mortality. Colonoscopy has the potential to be superior to FOBT and flexible sigmoidoscopy, but needs to be evaluated in randomized trials before any recommendation can be provided.