Population-level impact of the BMJ Rapid Recommendation for colorectal cancer screening: a microsimulation analysis

BMJ Open Gastroenterol. 2024 May 9;11(1):e001344. doi: 10.1136/bmjgast-2024-001344.


Objective: In 2019, a BMJ Rapid Recommendation advised against colorectal cancer (CRC) screening for adults with a predicted 15-year CRC risk below 3%. Using Switzerland as a case study, we estimated the population-level impact of this recommendation.

Design: We predicted the CRC risk of all respondents to the population-based Swiss Health Survey. We derived the distribution of risk-based screening start age, assuming predicted risk was calculated every 5 years between ages 25 and 70 and screening started when this risk exceeded 3%. Next, the MISCAN-Colon microsimulation model evaluated biennial faecal immunochemical test (FIT) screening with this risk-based start age. As a comparison, we simulated screening initiation based on age and sex.

Results: Starting screening only when predicted risk exceeded 3% meant 82% of women and 90% of men would not start screening before age 65 and 60, respectively. This would require 43%-57% fewer tests, result in 8%-16% fewer CRC deaths prevented and yield 19%-33% fewer lifeyears gained compared with screening from age 50. Screening women from age 65 and men from age 60 had a similar impact as screening only when predicted risk exceeded 3%.

Conclusion: With the recommended risk prediction tool, the population impact of the BMJ Rapid Recommendation would be similar to screening initiation based on age and sex only. It would delay screening initiation by 10-15 years. Although halving the screening burdens, screening benefits would be reduced substantially compared with screening initiation at age 50. This suggests that the 3% risk threshold to start CRC screening might be too high.


Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Computer Simulation
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Occult Blood*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Switzerland / epidemiology