ACP: Low-risk adults aged 50-75 should undergo regular screening for colorectal cancer

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Cost should also be a consideration in screening decisions

Cost-effectiveness is one more factor in the colorectal screening discussion, Michael Pignone, MD, said in an accompanying editorial.

Two studies by Ladabaum et al. reported cost-effectiveness modeling for various CRC screening techniques: “Comparative effectiveness and cost effectiveness of a multitarget stool DNA test to screen for colorectal neoplasia” (Gastroenterology. 2019;151,:427-39.e6) and “Cost-effectiveness and national effects of initiating colorectal cancer screening for average-risk persons at age 45 years instead of 50 years” (Gastroenterology. 2019;157:137-48).

These reports concluded that annual stool testing is more effective – but also more costly – than biennial testing. However, the additional cost per unit of benefit (figured in quality-adjusted life-years) is about $33,000 per life-year gained – a reasonable cost. “Hence, annual testing is a viable screening option,” wrote Dr. Pignone.

Starting screening at age 45 years instead of 50 years also produced an additional cost per life-year, but again, it is reasonable at $33,900 for colonoscopy screening and $7,700 for stool testing.

“However, for the same amount of additional resources, increasing screening rates in 55- or 65-year-olds or improving the proportion of positive stool test results that are followed by colonoscopy from 60% to 90% would yield much more benefit in life-years gained than lowering the starting age to 45 years.”

Analyses such as these conditionally support earlier colorectal cancer screening only if the universal screening rate for 50- to 75-year-olds is more than 80%, he wrote. “They also reinforce the most important point in all of the major guidelines: Any recommended form of screening in the 50- to 75-year age range is likely to be very cost-effective (if not cost-saving) compared with no screening and should be strongly encouraged.”

Dr. Pignone is director of the program on cancer prevention and control at the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes at the University of Texas, Austin.



Clinicians should discontinue screening for colorectal cancer in average-risk adults older than 75 years or in adults with a life expectancy of 10 years or less.

While the benefit from screening increases with age, so do the risks for harm, especially serious harm. Data show the balance of harms and benefits reaching a tipping point at around 75 years of age. But again, this isn’t a universal recommendation, the statement says.

“Persons with no history of [colorectal cancer] screening may benefit from screening after age 75 years, whereas those who have received regular screening with negative results may not.”

Cessation of testing considers life expectancy after age 75 years. The average life expectancy for healthy 75-year-old men and women in the United States is 9.9 and 12 years, respectively. But among men and women with serious medical comorbidities, average life expectancy after age 70 years drops to 8.9 and 10.8 years, respectively.

“Therefore, most persons aged 75 years or older, as well as most adults who are younger than 75 years but have serious comorbid conditions [such as chronic renal failure], are unlikely to benefit from screening but would undergo unnecessary, burdensome, potentially harmful, and costly screening tests.”

As in any testing discussion, personal preferences are important, but not just to make patients feel comfortable about their choice. Mindset about colorectal cancer testing has a very big effect on compliance, the statement noted.

“For example, a biennial stool test is not a good screening strategy for patients who may be unwilling or unlikely to follow up every other year. In addition, given the tradeoffs between benefits and harms, some patients may want less intensive screening, such as screening that begins at a later age, stops at an earlier age, or recurs less frequently regardless of modality selected.”

SOURCE: Qassam A et al. Ann Intern Med. 2019;171:643-54.

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