Background: A single colonoscopy at the age of 65 years has been recommended as a potential option to screen for colorectal cancer. This study compares the cost-effectiveness of 2 screening programs based on a single or repeated colonoscopy.
Methods: The cost-effectiveness of screening is analyzed with a computer model of a Markov process. A hypothetical population of 100 000 subjects aged 50 years undergoes a single colonoscopy at the age of 65 years or repeated colonoscopy every 10 years starting at the age of 50. Transition rates are estimated from US vital statistics and cancer statistics and published data on polyp incidence, patient compliance, and efficacy of colonoscopy plus polypectomy in cancer prevention. Costs of screening and cancer care are estimated from the 1998 Medicare reimbursement data using the perspective of a third-party payer.
Results: Compared with no screening, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of a single or repeated colonoscopy amounts to $2981 or to $10 983 per life year saved, respectively. A single colonoscopy saves most life years if done at the age of 60, but becomes most cost-effective after the age of 70. Depending on the level of compliance, repeated colonoscopies save 2 to 3 times more lives than a screening program based on a single colonoscopy.
Conclusions: A repeated colonoscopy every 10 years offers better prevention against colorectal cancer and represents a medically more desirable screening option. If high costs or low patient compliance renders this option not feasible, a single colonoscopy at the age of 65 would represent a highly cost-effective alternative.