BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The province of Ferrara has one of the highest incidences of colorectal cancer (CRC) in Italy. In January 2000, we set up a colonoscopy screening program focussing on first-degree relatives of CRC patients. We now report the results 5 years after the beginning of the project. SCREENEES AND METHODS: In October 1999, we started a campaign stressing the usefulness of colonoscopy for the first-degree relatives of CRC patients. Subjects included in the screening program were aged between 45 and 75 years with at least one first-degree relative affected by CRC. They were invited to an interview where a physician suggested colonoscopy as a screening option. RESULTS: In 5 years, 776 subjects were interviewed and 733 (94.4%) agreed to an endoscopic examination (M/F:375/401; mean age 55 years): 562 colonoscopies were performed. Adenomas and cancers were found in 122 (21.7%) and 12 (2.1%) subjects, respectively. Histological examination in 181 persons with lesions (32.8%) showed (most serious lesion quoted) 47 hyperplastic polyps (26% of all lesions), 2 serrated adenomas (1.1%), 68 tubular adenomas (48%), 24 tubulovillous adenomas (13.3%), 9 adenomas with high grade dysplasia (5%) and 12 adenocarcinomas (6.6%). The majority of the cancers were at an early stage (8 Dukes A and 3 Dukes B). Sedation was used in only 42 colonoscopies (7.5%). CONCLUSIONS: A colonoscopy-based screening in this selected high-risk population is feasible. Even without sedation subjects readily agreed to the endoscopic procedure. We identified a significant number of advanced neoplasms and cancers at an early stage suggesting that this could be a useful tool in early identification of CRC.