Cochrane Summaries

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Screening for colorectal cancer using the faecal occult blood test, Hemoccult

Hewitson P, Glasziou PP, Irwig L, Towler B, Watson E
Published Online: 
16 February 2011

Regular screening of faeces for blood can detect colorectal cancer earlier and hence may reduce mortality in populations at risk, such as older patients. The screening test used in these trials to detect colorectal (bowel) cancer was the faecal occult blood test (FOBT). If the FOBT is positive, the bowels are examined closely with further diagnostic test (coloscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema), but these tests often cause discomfort and can cause serious adverse consequences. As blood identified in faeces may be due to several reason (unrelated to cancer), it may cause people unnecessary stress and expose them to possible harm. This review found that FOBT screening is likely to avoid approximately 1 in 6 colorectal cancer deaths.