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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Fecal Blood Test Reduces Colon Cancer Risk: 11/04/2013

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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The relative risk of death from colorectal cancer declined significantly after adults received annual or biennial fecal blood tests over 12 years within a 30-year period, finds a comprehensive study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study of more than 46,000 adults in the Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study (for a 30-year period from 1976 through 2008) found a 32 percent reduction in the relative risk of death from colorectal cancer occurred after participants received an annual fecal blood test during two six-year periods. The study found a 22 percent reduction in the relative risk of death from colorectal cancer occurred when participants received a fecal blood test biennially (during similar six year periods).

A fecal blood test is a commonly used colorectal cancer screening, diagnostic procedure. The study’s results compared persons who were screened during two six-year periods with participants who did not receive a fecal blood test or other colorectal screenings. All participants in the larger Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study were followed for at least 30 years.

The study’s seven researchers add some participants experienced an even greater reduction in their relative risk of death from colorectal cancer. For example, male participants ages 60-69 (who received an annual fecal blood screening) experienced a 54 percent comparative decline in the relative risk of death from colorectal cancer. Women participants age 70 years or older (who received an annual fecal blood screening) experienced a 58 percent comparative decline in their relative risk of death from colorectal cancer.

The study found no significant comparative benefit in reducing colorectal mortality risks (following fecal blood tests) among women who were under age 60. In addition, there was no comparative significant reduction in death rates for all diseases and conditions between the persons who received fecal blood screening and the study’s unscreened participants.

The authors note the research is one of the first studies to follow participants for three decades, which enabled the assessment of the impact of screenings on participants long after annual or biennial screenings ceased. The authors note the study provides a longer time frame to assess the magnitude of fecal blood screening’s effects on the risk of death from colorectal cancer. 

An editorial that accompanies the study notes (and we quote): ‘The magnitude of the screening benefit is similar to what was originally reported after 13 years [in an earlier] trial, which suggests the effects of fecal occult-blood testing persist even after screening has stopped’ (end of quote). The editorial adds the current study — coupled with another colorectal cancer screening study published in the same issue — reinforce the clinical value of adult colorectal screening programs.

The American Cancer Society estimates there are about 143,000 new colorectal cancer cases annually and 51,000 Americans die each year from colorectal cancer.’s colorectal cancer health topic page provides information about fecal blood tests (from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry) in the ‘diagnosis/symptoms’ section. Information about other screening procedures (provided by the National Cancer Institute) can be found in the ‘start here’ section of’s colorectal cancer health topic page. 

Some easy-to-read information about how to get tested for colorectal cancer is available in the ‘overviews’ section of’s colorectal cancer health topic page. There also is a handout devoted to colorectal screening in the ‘patient handout’ section of’s colorectal cancer health topic page.’s colorectal cancer health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about colorectal cancer as they become available on

To find’s colorectal cancer health topic page, type ‘colon cancer’ in the search box on’s home page. Then, click on ‘colorectal cancer (National Library of Medicine).’

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