Faecal immunochemical tests (FITs) are commonly used in colorectal cancer (CRC) screening. Diagnostic accuracy of FIT differs between males and females. This so far unexplained difference could result in a dissimilarity in screening outcome between both sexes. The aim of this study is to compare sensitivity and specificity of a FIT between males and females, and study potential explanatory variables.
In this cross-sectional study, data were prospectively collected. 3,022 subjects performed a FIT prior to complete colonoscopy. Sensitivity, specificity, and ROC curves were compared for both sexes. Potential explanatory variables of the relation between sensitivity and sex were explored.
At all cut-off values, FIT sensitivity for CRC was higher (range 13-23%) and specificity was lower (range 2-4%) in males compared to females. At 75 ng/ml, sensitivity for CRC was 93% in males compared to 71% in females (p = 0.03), and specificity was 90% in males compared to 93% in females (p = <0.05). For advanced adenomas, males had a slightly higher sensitivity and lower specificity (not significant). At 75 ng/ml, sensitivity for advanced adenomas was 33% in males compared to 29% in females (p = 0.46), and specificity was 93% in males compared to 95% in females (p = 0.22). ROC curves were similar for both sexes, and equal combinations of sensitivity and specificity could be achieved by adjusting the cut-off values. For CRC, the difference in sensitivity could not be explained by age or location of the tumour.
FIT has a higher sensitivity and a lower specificity for CRC in males than in females. Equal test characteristics can be achieved by allowing separate cut-off values for both sexes. Location and age do not explain the observed differences in sensitivity.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12876-014-0217-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.