Family history-based colorectal cancer screening in Australia: A modelling study of the costs, benefits, and harms of different participation scenarios

PLoS Med. 2018 Aug 16;15(8):e1002630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002630. eCollection 2018 Aug.


Background: The Australian National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (NBCSP) was introduced in 2006. When fully implemented, the programme will invite people aged 50 to 74 to complete an immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT) every 2 years.

Methods and findings: To investigate colorectal cancer (CRC) screening occurring outside of the NBCSP, we classified participants (n = 2,480) in the Australasian Colorectal Cancer Family Registry (ACCFR) into 3 risk categories (average, moderately increased, and potentially high) based on CRC family history and assessed their screening practices according to national guidelines. We developed a microsimulation to compare hypothetical screening scenarios (70% and 100% uptake) to current participation levels (baseline) and evaluated clinical outcomes and cost for each risk category. The 2 main limitations of this study are as follows: first, the fact that our cost-effectiveness analysis was performed from a third-party payer perspective, which does not include indirect costs and results in overestimated cost-effectiveness ratios, and second, that our natural history model of CRC does not include polyp sojourn time, which determines the rate of cancerous transformation. Screening uptake was low across all family history risk categories (64%-56% reported no screening). For participants at average risk, 18% reported overscreening, while 37% of those in the highest risk categories screened according to guidelines. Higher screening levels would substantially reduce CRC mortality across all risk categories (95 to 305 fewer deaths per 100,000 persons in the 70% scenario versus baseline). For those at average risk, a fully implemented NBCSP represented the most cost-effective approach to prevent CRC deaths (AUS$13,000-16,000 per quality-adjusted life year [QALY]). For those at moderately increased risk, higher adherence to recommended screening was also highly cost-effective (AUS$19,000-24,000 per QALY).

Conclusion: Investing in public health strategies to increase adherence to appropriate CRC screening will save lives and deliver high value for money.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Early Detection of Cancer / economics
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Immunochemistry
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Economic
  • Occult Blood
  • Patient Harm
  • Patient Selection
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years