Clin Endosc.  2018 Jan;51(1):37-49. 10.5946/ce.2017.141.

Colorectal Cancer Screening—Who, How, and When?

  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, University Hospital of North Tees, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, UK.
  • 2School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Durham University, Durham, UK.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer worldwide. It is amenable to screening as it occurs in premalignant, latent, early, and curable stages. PubMed, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and national and international CRC screening guidelines were searched for CRC screening methods, populations, and timing. CRC screening can use direct or indirect tests, delivered opportunistically or via organized programs. Most CRCs are diagnosed after 60 years of age; most screening programs apply to individuals 50–75 years of age. Screening may reduce disease-specific mortality by detecting CRC in earlier stages, and CRC incidence by detecting premalignant polyps, which can subsequently be removed. In randomized controlled trials (RCTs) guaiac fecal occult blood testing (gFOBt) was found to reduce CRC mortality by 13%–33%. Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) has no RCT data comparing it to no screening, but is superior to gFOBt. Flexible sigmoidoscopy (FS) trials demonstrated an 18% reduction in CRC incidence and a 28% reduction in CRC mortality. Currently, RCT evidence for colonoscopy screening is scarce. Although not yet corroborated by RCTs, it is likely that colonoscopy is the best screening modality for an individual. From a population perspective, organized programs are superior to opportunistic screening. However, no nation can offer organized population-wide colonoscopy screening. Thus, organized programs using cheaper modalities, such as FS/FIT, can be tailored to budget and capacity.


Colorectal neoplasms; Screening; Colonoscopy
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