INTRODUCTION: Colorectal cancer (CRC) does not affect different sociodemographic groups uniformly. CRC screening programmes could seek to reduce this inequality; however, the screening programmes themselves might be subject to differential participation across sociodemographic groups. This study investigates the sociodemographic inequality at all steps in Denmark's nationwide CRC screening programme: screening participation, faecal immunochemical test (FIT) results, colonoscopy compliance, CRC diagnosis, and cancer stage.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: This cohort study includes all first-time invitees from the beginning of the Danish population-based CRC screening programme from 1 March 2014 to 31 December 2017.
RESULTS: Sixty-four percent of the invitees participated in the screening programme, and of those 7% were FIT-positive. After being invited to further diagnostic procedures, 90% responded to the invitation, and among those 5% were CRC-positive. Among those diagnosed with CRC, 9% were stage IV. Through multivariable analyses, we identified sociodemographic inequalities in all steps of the screening programme from returning a stool sample to being diagnosed with CRC. Specifically, we identified inequalities across sex, age, migration status, relationship status, the screening status of one's partner, education, income, and use of health services. Women were more likely to participate compared to men (RR = 1.13; 95% CI: 1.12-1.13), but had a lower risk of a positive FIT result (RR = 0.67; 95% CI: 0.66-0.68) and of a CRC diagnosis (RR = 0.88; 95% CI: 0.82-0.93) compared to men. The likelihood of participating as well as the risk of positive FIT results and CRC diagnosis increased with age.
CONCLUSION: All steps of the screening programme were subject to sociodemographic inequalities. Interventions are needed to target groups identified as having lower uptake as well as high-risk of being FIT- and/or CRC-positive. These groups include males, individuals aged 60+ years and individuals who do not visit their GP regularly.