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OBJECTIVES: To compare the feasibility of mass screening by flexible sigmoidoscopy with screening by faecal occult blood testing (Haemoccult) and both tests combined. DESIGN: Patients were randomised to screening by flexible sigmoidoscopy, faecal blood testing, or both tests. The flexible sigmoidoscopy examinations were performed by a general practitioner. SETTING: General practice. SUBJECTS: 3744 patients aged 50-75 years. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Uptake, positive results, detection of neoplasia, complications, and recall for diagnostic colonoscopy. RESULTS: Uptake was significantly higher in the flexible sigmoidoscopy group (46.6%) than in the faecal blood test group (31.6%; P<0.001) or than in the group having both tests (30.1%; P<0.001). Telephone reminders increased uptake of sigmoidoscopy to 61.8%. In total, 1116 sigmoidoscopy examinations were performed without major complication. Polyps were found in 19. 3% (95% confidence interval 17.0% to 21.6%) but only 6.8% (5.3% to 8. 3%) had adenomas and 2.4% (1.5% to 3.3%) "high risk" adenomas. Cancer was detected in four subjects. The faecal blood test yielded positive results in 0.8% (0.2% to 1.4%) but missed at least one cancer and 30 cases of adenoma which were found by sigmoidoscopy in the combined group. Use of histological criteria-shown elsewhere to correlate with future risk of colorectal cancer-to select "positive" patients could reduce recall for diagnostic colonoscopy from about 20% to less than 5%. CONCLUSIONS: Some of the predicted obstacles to screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy are surmountable. Clear evidence relating to efficacy will be obtained only from a randomised controlled trial.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





182 - 185


Aged, England, Family Practice, Female, Humans, Intestinal Polyps, Male, Mass Screening, Middle Aged, Occult Blood, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, Rectal Neoplasms, Sensitivity and Specificity, Sigmoid Neoplasms, Sigmoidoscopy