Prioritisation of colonoscopy services in colorectal cancer screening programmes to minimise impact of COVID-19 pandemic on predicted cancer burden: A comparative modelling study

J Med Screen. 2022 Jun;29(2):72-83. doi: 10.1177/09691413211056777. Epub 2021 Dec 3.


Objectives: Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening with a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) has been disrupted in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Performing catch-up of missed screens while maintaining regular screening services requires additional colonoscopy capacity that may not be available. This study aimed to compare strategies that clear the screening backlog using limited colonoscopy resources.

Methods: A range of strategies were simulated using four country-specific CRC natural-history models: Adenoma and Serrated pathway to Colorectal CAncer (ASCCA) and MIcrosimulation SCreening ANalysis for CRC (MISCAN-Colon) (both in the Netherlands), Policy1-Bowel (Australia) and OncoSim (Canada). Strategies assumed a 3-month screening disruption with varying recovery period lengths (6, 12, and 24 months) and varying FIT thresholds for diagnostic colonoscopy. Increasing the FIT threshold reduces the number of referrals to diagnostic colonoscopy. Outcomes for each strategy were colonoscopy demand and excess CRC-related deaths due to the disruption.

Results: Performing catch-up using the regular FIT threshold in 6, 12 and 24 months could prevent most excess CRC-related deaths, but required 50%, 25% and 12.5% additional colonoscopy demand, respectively. Without exceeding usual colonoscopy demand, up to 60% of excess CRC-related deaths can be prevented by increasing the FIT threshold for 12 or 24 months. Large increases in FIT threshold could lead to additional deaths rather than preventing them.

Conclusions: Clearing the screening backlog in 24 months could avert most excess CRC-related deaths due to a 3-month disruption but would require a small increase in colonoscopy demand. Increasing the FIT threshold slightly over 24 months could ease the pressure on colonoscopy resources.

Keywords: COVID-19; Colonoscopy; Colorectal cancer; FIT; Screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Colonoscopy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Feces
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Occult Blood
  • Pandemics