Effect of flexible sigmoidoscopy screening on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: long-term follow-up of the randomised US PLCO cancer screening trial

Eric A. Miller, Paul F. Pinsky, Robert E. Schoen, Philip C. Prorok, Timothy R. Church

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background: Screening flexible sigmoidoscopy reduces incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer. Previously reported results from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer (PLCO) screening trial had a median follow-up of 12 years. Whether the benefit is sustained over the long term and remains so in both sexes and all age groups is uncertain. We report long-term results after an additional 5 years of follow-up. Methods: Participants in the PLCO trial were recruited from the general population in the catchment areas of ten screening centres across the USA, without previous diagnosis of a prostate, lung, colorectal, or ovarian cancer or current cancer treatment. From 1993 to 2001, participants aged 55–74 years were randomly assigned to usual care or flexible sigmoidoscopy at baseline and again at 3 years or 5 years. Randomisation was done within blocks and stratified by centre, age, and sex. The primary endpoint was cause-specific mortality and secondary endpoints included incidence and tumour staging; cause of death was determined without knowledge of study arm. In this analysis, we assessed incidence and mortality rates overall, by time-period, and by combinations of sex, age at baseline (55–64 years/65–74 years), location (distal/proximal), and stage, on an intent-to-treat basis. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00002540. Findings: After a median follow-up of 15·8 years (IQR 13·2–18·0) for incidence and 16·8 years (14·4–18·9) for mortality, the incidence of colorectal cancer was significantly lower in the intervention arm (1461 cases; 12·55 per 10 000 person-years) than with usual care (1761 cases; 15·33 per 10 000 person-years; relative risk [RR] 0·82, 95% CI 0·76–0·88). Similarly, mortality was lower in the intervention arm (417 deaths; 3·37 per 10 000 person-years) than the usual care arm (549; 4·48 per 10 000 person-years; RR 0·75, 95% CI 0·66–0·85). The reduction in mortality was limited to the distal colon, with no significant effect in the proximal colon. Reductions in incidence were significantly larger in men than women (p interaction =0·04) and reductions in mortality were significantly larger in the older age group (65–74 years vs 55–64 years at baseline; p interaction =0·01). Interpretation: Reductions in colorectal cancer incidence and mortality from flexible sigmoidoscopy screening are sustained over the long term. Differences by sex and age should be examined in other ongoing trials of colorectal cancer screening to help clarify if different screening strategies would achieve greater risk reduction. Funding: Extended follow-up was funded under NIH contract HHSN261201600007I.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-110
Number of pages10
JournalThe Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Cancer incidence data have been provided by the Alabama Statewide Cancer Registry, Arizona Cancer Registry, Colorado Central Cancer Registry, Georgia Cancer Registry, Hawaii Cancer Registry, Cancer Data Registry of Idaho, Maryland Cancer Registry, Michigan Cancer Surveillance Program, Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System, Missouri Cancer Registry, Nevada Central Cancer Registry, Ohio Cancer Incidence Surveillance System, Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, Texas Cancer Registry, Utah Cancer Registry, Virginia Cancer Registry, and Wisconsin Cancer Reporting System. All are supported in part by funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Program for Central Registries, local states or by the National Cancer Institute, Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program. The results reported here and the conclusions derived are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of flexible sigmoidoscopy screening on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: long-term follow-up of the randomised US PLCO cancer screening trial'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this