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BACKGROUND: Colorectal neoplasia causes bleeding, enabling detection using Faecal Occult Blood tests (FOBt). The National Health Service (NHS) Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (BCSP) guaiac-based FOBt (gFOBt) kits contain six sample windows (or 'spots') and each kit returns either a positive, unclear or negative result. Test kits with five or six positive windows are termed 'abnormal' and the subject is referred for further investigation, usually colonoscopy. If 1-4 windows are positive, the result is initially 'unclear' and up to two further kits are submitted, further positivity leads to colonoscopy ('weak positive'). If no further blood is detected, the test is deemed 'normal' and subjects are tested again in 2 years' time. We studied the association between spot positivity % (SP%) and neoplasia. METHODS: Subjects in the Southern Hub completing the first of two consecutive episodes between April 2009 and March 2011 were studied. Each episode included up to three kits and a maximum of 18 windows (spots). For each positivity combination, the percentage of positive spots out of the total number of spots completed by an individual in a single-screening episode was derived and named 'SP%'. Fifty-five combinations of SP can occur if the position of positive/negative spots on the same test card is ignored.The proportion of individuals for whom neoplasia was identified in Episode 2 was derived for each of the 55 spot combinations. In addition, the Episode 1 spot pattern was analysed for subjects with cancer detected in Episode 2. RESULTS: During Episode 2, 284,261 subjects completed gFOBT screening and colonoscopies were performed on 3891 (1.4%) subjects. At colonoscopy, cancer was detected in 7.4% (n=286) and a further 39.8% (n=1550) had adenomas. Cancer was detected in 21.3% of subjects with an abnormal first kit (five or six positive spots) and in 5.9% of those with a weak positive test result.The proportion of cancers detected was positively correlated with SP%, with an R(2) correlation (linear) of 0.89. As the SP% increased from 11 to 100%, so the colorectal cancer (CRC) detection rate increased from 4 to 25%. At the lower SP%s, from 11to 25%, the CRC risk was relatively static at ~4%. Above an SP% of 25%, every 10-percentage points increase in the SP%, was associated with an increase in cancer detection of 2.5%. CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrated a strong correlation between SP% and cancer detection within the NHS BCSP. At the population level, subjects' cancer risk ranged from 4 to 25% and correlated with the gFOBt spot pattern.Some subjects with an SP% of 11% proceed to colonoscopy, whereas others with an SP% of 22% do not. Colonoscopy on patients with four positive spots in kit 1 (SP% 22%) would, we estimate, detect cancer in ~4% of cases and increase overall colonoscopy volume by 6%. This study also demonstrated how screening programme data could be used to guide its ongoing implementation and inform other programmes.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Cancer

Publication Date





2156 - 2162


Adult, Aged, Algorithms, Colonoscopy, Colorectal Neoplasms, Early Detection of Cancer, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Occult Blood, Reagent Kits, Diagnostic, Retrospective Studies