Fecal occult blood screening in the Minnesota study: Role of chance detection of lesions

Fred Ederer, Timothy R. Church, Jack S. Mandel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: In the Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study, annual fecal occult blood testing reduced mortality from colorectal cancer by at least 33.4%. Some attribute a large part of this reduction to chance detection of cancers by colonoscopies; rehydration of guaiac test slides greatly increased positivity and consequently the number of colonoscopies performed. This study was conducted to determine how much of the reduction resulted from chance detection. Methods: We used a mathematical model developed by Lang and Ransohoff to estimate the proportion of the 33.4% mortality attainable by chance alone. Applying the model requires the specification of five parameters: duration of follow-up, rate of compliance with fecal occult blood testing, rate of compliance with colonoscopy, positivity rate, and efficacy of colonoscopy in reducing colorectal cancer mortality. We took values for four of the five parameters directly from the Minnesota study. For the fifth parameter, efficacy of colonoscopy, we selected a value of 60 %, based on the conclusions of another study. Whereas the Lang-Ransohoff model selects persons for colonoscopy by chance alone, those with bleeding cancers would also be selected by sensitive fecal occult blood testing. We therefore adjusted the result of the Lang-Ransohoff model for this dual detectability. Results: We found that 16%-25% of the reduction in colorectal cancer deaths effected by fecal occult blood testing in the Minnesota study was due to chance detection; the remainder was due to sensitive detection. Conclusion: Chance played a minor role in the detection of colorectal cancers by fecal occult blood testing in the Minnesota study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1423-1428
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 1997


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