BACKGROUND: Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening programs using fecal immunochemical test (FIT) have to choose a cut-off value to decide which citizens to recall for colonoscopy. The evidence on the optimal cut-off value is sparse and based on studies with a low number of cancer cases.
METHODS: This observational study used data from the Danish Colorectal Cancer Screening Database. Sensitivity and specificity were estimated for various cut-off values based on a large number of cancers. Traditionally optimal cut-off values are found by weighting sensitivity and specificity equally. As this might result in too many unnecessary colonoscopies we also provide optimal cut-off values for different weighting of sensitivity and specificity/number of needed colonoscopies to detect one cancer.
RESULTS: Weighting sensitivity and specificity equally gives an optimal cut-off value of 45 ng Hb/ml. This, however, means making 24 colonoscopies to detect one cancer. Weighting sensitivity lower and for example, aiming at making about 16 colonoscopies to detect one cancer, gives an optimal cut-off value of 125 ng Hb/ml.
CONCLUSIONS: The optimal cut-off value in an FIT population-based screening program is 45 ng Hb/ml, when as traditionally sensitivity and specificity are weighted equally. If, however, 24 colonoscopies needed to detect one cancer is too huge a burden on the health care system and the participants, 80, 125, 175, and 350 ng Hb/ml are optimal cut-off values when only 19/16/14/10 colonoscopies are accepted to find one cancer.