Screening for colorectal cancer in a high-risk population. Results of a mathematical model

Gastroenterology. 1987 Mar;92(3):682-92. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(87)90018-7.


A mathematical model was used to estimate the cost-effectiveness of colorectal cancer screening strategies for people who are at high risk because of a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer. The model uses indirect evidence about such factors as cancer incidence, sensitivity and specificity of different tests, and treatment effectiveness. The analysis indicates that for screening people over 40 yr old an annual fecal occult blood test may reduce colorectal cancer mortality by about one-third, either colonoscopy or barium enema may reduce mortality by approximately 85%, a 3-5-yr frequency for endoscopies or barium enemas preserves 70%-90% of the effectiveness of an annual frequency, and beginning screening at age 50 reduces effectiveness by 5%-10%. Although both barium enemas and colonoscopies appear to be effective in reducing mortality, the lower cost of the barium enema makes it a more cost-effective strategy. All of these estimates depend on the baseline estimates of each of the factors incorporated in the model; the conclusions are most sensitive to assumptions about the natural history of adenomatous polyps, the bleeding of adenomas and presymptomatic cancers, and the sensitivity of the fecal occult blood test. Recommendations about colorectal cancer screening must also consider factors such as discomfort, inconvenience, and the availability of various technologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / economics*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Occult Blood
  • Rectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Risk