Is virtual colonoscopy a cost-effective option to screen for colorectal cancer?

Am J Gastroenterol. 1999 Aug;94(8):2268-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1999.01304.x.


Objective: Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) colonography is a new technique that uses data generated from CT or MR imaging to create two- and three-dimensional scans of the colon. It has been advocated to become the new primary technique of screening for colorectal cancer. The economic feasibility of such recommendation, however, has not yet been evaluated.

Methods: The cost-effectiveness of two screening strategies using CT colonography or conventional colonoscopy was compared by computer models based on a Markov process. We supposed that a hypothetical population of 100,000 subjects aged 50 yr undergoes a screening procedure every 10 yr. Suspicious findings of CT colonography are worked-up by colonoscopy. After polypectomy, colonoscopy is repeated every 3 yr until no adenomatous polyps are found.

Results: Under baseline conditions, screening by CT colonography costs $24,586 per life-year saved, compared with $20,930 spent on colonoscopy screening. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratios comparing CT colonography to no screening and colonoscopy to CT colonography were $11,484 and $10,408, respectively. Screening by colonoscopy remains more cost-effective even if the sensitivity and specificity of CT colonography both rise to 100%. For the two screening procedures to become similarly cost-effective, CT colonoscopy needs to be associated with an initial compliance rate 15-20% better or procedural costs 54% less than colonoscopy.

Conclusions: To become cost-effective and be able to compete with colonoscopy in screening for colorectal cancer, CT or MR colonography would need be offered at a very low price or result in compliance rates much better than those associated with colonoscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Colonic Polyps / diagnosis
  • Colonic Polyps / economics
  • Colonoscopy / economics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / economics*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / economics*
  • Male
  • Markov Chains
  • Mass Screening / economics*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / economics*
  • User-Computer Interface*