Aussie Study Supports National Screening Program

As the Australian government considers the future of its National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Australian and US researchers provide compelling evidence of the cost-effectiveness of expanding the national screening program.

Australia has one of the highest colorectal cancer (CRC) mortality rates in the world. Its current screening program (costing about $29 million a year) provides a one-time immunochemical fecal test (iFOBT) for people aged 50, 55, and 65 years. Program funding expires in mid-2011.

A study funded by the Australian government and the US National Cancer Institute, published in the Feb. 21 Medical Journal of Australia, found that expanding the program to screen all 5 million Australians aged 50 -74 years every two years by iFOBT could end up costing only about $50 million more a year, while saving 300 to 500 lives every year.

“…Expanding the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is the best investment available to the Australian Government for reducing cancer deaths in the short and long term,” said Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council Australia. He noted that the estimated gross cost, $150 million (including $97 million for follow-up and surveillance colonoscopies), was comparable to existing breast and cervical screening programs. “Yet bowel cancer is killing 1,200 more Australians each year than breast and cervical cancers combined,” Olver said.

Moreover, the expanded screening program would actually end up costing the government only about $80 million a year, study authors estimated, due to fewer CRC cases and lower treatment costs with earlier diagnosis.

Lead author Professor Mike Pignone, University of North Carolina, said “The health system in Australia is well-regarded internationally, so it’s anomalous that such a beneficial program, in terms of both health outcomes and cost-effectiveness, faces an uncertain future.”

This Wednesday and Thursday, March 2nd and 3rd, take five minutes to help us get legislation passed that would create a national screening program in the US. Join the Congressional Butt-in, a phone blitz to Congress!

Sources: Medical Journal of Australia 2011:194 (4) 180-185; Cancer Council of Australia

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