Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) fulfills the World Health Organization criteria for mass screening, but screening uptake is low in most countries. CRC screening is resource intensive, and it is unclear if an optimal strategy exists. The objective of this study was to perform an economic evaluation of CRC screening in average risk North American individuals considering all relevant screening modalities and current CRC treatment costs.
Methods and findings: An incremental cost-utility analysis using a Markov model was performed comparing guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) annually, fecal DNA every 3 years, flexible sigmoidoscopy or computed tomographic colonography every 5 years, and colonoscopy every 10 years. All strategies were also compared to a no screening natural history arm. Given that different FIT assays and collection methods have been previously tested, three distinct FIT testing strategies were considered, on the basis of studies that have reported "low," "mid," and "high" test performance characteristics for detecting adenomas and CRC. Adenoma and CRC prevalence rates were based on a recent systematic review whereas screening adherence, test performance, and CRC treatment costs were based on publicly available data. The outcome measures included lifetime costs, number of cancers, cancer-related deaths, quality-adjusted life-years gained, and incremental cost-utility ratios. Sensitivity and scenario analyses were performed. Annual FIT, assuming mid-range testing characteristics, was more effective and less costly compared to all strategies (including no screening) except FIT-high. Among the lifetimes of 100,000 average-risk patients, the number of cancers could be reduced from 4,857 to 1,393 [corrected] and the number of CRC deaths from 1,782 [corrected] to 457, while saving CAN$68 per person. Although screening patients with FIT became more expensive than a strategy of no screening when the test performance of FIT was reduced, or the cost of managing CRC was lowered (e.g., for jurisdictions that do not fund expensive biologic chemotherapeutic regimens), CRC screening with FIT remained economically attractive.
Conclusions: CRC screening with FIT reduces the risk of CRC and CRC-related deaths, and lowers health care costs in comparison to no screening and to other existing screening strategies. Health policy decision makers should consider prioritizing funding for CRC screening using FIT.