Background: Anal cancer is uncommon and predominantly a disease of the elderly. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been implicated as a causal agent, and HPV infection is usually transmitted sexually. Individuals who are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive are particularly vulnerable to HPV infections, and increasing numbers from this population present with anal cancer.
Objective: To estimate the cost-effectiveness of screening for anal cancer in the high-risk HIV-positive population [in particular, men who have sex with men (MSM), who have been identified as being at greater risk of the disease] by developing a model that incorporates the national screening guidelines criteria.
Data sources: A comprehensive literature search was undertaken in January 2006 (updated in November 2006). The following electronic bibliographic databases were searched: Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA), BIOSIS previews (Biological Abstracts), British Nursing Index (BNI), Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), EMBASE, MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, NHS Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE), NHS Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Database, PsycINFO, Science Citation Index (SCI), and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI).
Study selection: Published literature identified by the search strategy was assessed by four reviewers. Papers that met the inclusion criteria contained the following: data on population incidence, effectiveness of screening, health outcomes or screening and/or treatment costs; defined suitable screening technologies; prospectively evaluated tests to detect anal cancer. Foreign-language papers were excluded. Searches identified 2102 potential papers; 1403 were rejected at title and a further 493 at abstract. From 206 papers retrieved, 81 met the inclusion criteria. A further treatment paper was added, giving a total of 82 papers included.
Data extraction: Data from included studies were extracted into data extraction forms by the clinical effectiveness reviewer. To analyse the cost-effectiveness of screening, two decision-analytical models were developed and populated.
Results: The reference case cost-effectiveness model for MSM found that screening for anal cancer is very unlikely to be cost-effective. The negative aspects of screening included utility decrements associated with false-positive results and with treatment for high-grade anal intraepithelial neoplasia (HG-AIN). Sensitivity analyses showed that removing these utility decrements improved the cost-effectiveness of screening. However, combined with higher regression rates from low-grade anal intraepithelial neoplasia (LG-AIN), the lowest expected incremental cost-effectiveness ratio remained at over 44,000 pounds per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis showed that no screening retained over 50% probability of cost-effectiveness to a QALY value of 50,000 pounds. The screening model for HIV-positive women showed an even lower likelihood of cost-effectiveness, with the most favourable sensitivity analyses reporting an incremental cost per QALY of 88,000 pounds.
Limitations: Limited knowledge is available about the epidemiology and natural history of anal cancer, along with a paucity of good-quality evidence concerning the effectiveness of screening.
Conclusions: Many of the criteria for assessing the need for a screening programme were not met and the cost-effectiveness analyses showed little likelihood that screening any of the identified high-risk groups would generate health improvements at a reasonable cost. Further studies could assess whether the screening model has underestimated the impact of anal cancer, the results of which may justify an evaluative study of the effects of treatment for HG-AIN.