The potential benefits and harms of screening for colorectal cancer

Bernie Towler, Les Irwig, Paul Glasziou, Marion Haas, Angela Plunkett, Glenn Salkeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract: Australian guidelines for colorectal cancer screening for average‐risk populations vary from recommendations for annual screening by faecal occult blood testing for those over 40 years to recommendations that screening may be appropriate if requested by an informed patient aged 50 to 75 years. There are five large screening trials, of which three have published mortality data. A meta‐analysis of the mortality data suggests a 19 per cent reduction in colorectal cancer mortality (95 per cent confidence intervals 0.68 to 0.96) with Hemoccult screening. Because of the width of the confidence interval, decisions about the magnitude of the effect of screening should await further trial results, which should be available in the next few years. In the interim, we should examine issues of harm and costs in Australia. For example, in the major trials, over 80 per cent of positive results have been falsely positive and have required invasive investigation. Estimates of the cost‐effectiveness of screening for the Australian health system are not yet available and are essential. If the benefits of screening outweigh the harms and costs, a successful screening program would require provision of screening infrastructure and appropriate information to target populations, quality control for screening tests and investigations, recall mechanisms to ensure appropriate follow‐up of persons with positive results and the active participation of the Australian public and health practitioners. 1995 Public Health Association of Australia

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-28
Number of pages5
JournalAustralian Journal of Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1995
Externally publishedYes


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