BACKGROUND: Estimates of the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) (Hemoccult II) sensitivity differed widely between screening trials and led to divergent conclusions on the effects of FOBT screening. We used microsimulation modeling to estimate a preclinical colorectal cancer (CRC) duration and sensitivity for unrehydrated FOBT from the data of 3 randomized controlled trials of Minnesota, Nottingham, and Funen. In addition to 2 usual hypotheses on the sensitivity of FOBT, we tested a novel hypothesis where sensitivity is linked to the stage of clinical diagnosis in the situation without screening. METHODS: We used the MIS-CAN-Colon microsimulation model to estimate sensitivity and duration, accounting for differences between the trials in demography, background incidence, and trial design. We tested 3 hypotheses for FOBT sensitivity: sensitivity is the same for all preclinical CRC stages, sensitivity increases with each stage, and sensitivity is higher for the stage in which the cancer would have been diagnosed in the absence of screening than for earlier stages. Goodness-of-fit was evaluated by comparing expected and observed rates of screen-detected and interval CRC. RESULTS: The hypothesis with a higher sensitivity in the stage of clinical diagnosis gave the best fit. Under this hypothesis, sensitivity of FOBT was 51% in the stage of clinical diagnosis and 19% in earlier stages. The average duration of preclinical CRC was estimated at 6.7 years. CONCLUSIONS: Our analysis corroborated a long duration of preclinical CRC, with FOBT most sensitive in the stage of clinical diagnosis. Cancer 2009;115:2410-9. (C) 2009 American Cancer Society.