Objective: To assess the impact of the UK colorectal cancer guaiac faecal occult blood test screening pilot studies on incidence trends, stage distribution and mortality trends. Design: Ecological study. Setting: Scotland and the West Midlands. Data: We extracted anonymised colorectal cancer (ICD-10 C18-C20) registration (1982-2006) and death records (1982-2007), along with corresponding mid-year population estimates. Intervention: Residents of the screening pilot areas, in the age group 50-69 years, were offered biennial guaiac faecal occult blood test screening from 2000 onwards. Screening was not offered routinely in non-pilot areas until the start of the roll-out of the national screening programmes in England and in Scotland in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Main outcome measures: We analysed trends in age-specific incidence and mortality rates, and Dukes' stage distribution. Within each country/region, we compared the screening pilot areas to non-screening pilot ('control') areas using Chi square tests and Poisson regression modelling. Results: Following the start of the screening pilots, as expected in the prevalent round of a new screening programme, in the pilot areas there was a short-lived increase in incidence of colorectal cancer among 50-69 year olds except for females in the West Midlands. A trend towards earlier stage and less advanced disease was also observed, with males showing significant increases in Dukes' A and corresponding decreases in Dukes' C in the screening pilot areas (all P < 0.03). With the exception of females in the West Midlands, mortality rates for colorectal cancer decreased significantly and at a faster rate in the populations invited for screening. Conclusion: The existence of a natural control population not yet invited for screening provided a unique opportunity to assess whether the benefits of colorectal cancer screening, beyond the setting of a randomised controlled trial, could be detected using routinely collected statistics. Our analysis suggests that screening will fulfil its aim of reducing mortality from colorectal cancer. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.