Journal article

There are three government-funded population-based screening programs in Australia – the national breast cancer screening program (BreastScreen Australia), the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP), and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP). Options for early detection of other cancers (e.g. hepatocellular carcinoma and melanoma) are under investigation. This study provides an overview of the health benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of population-level breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening, targeted-risk screening for lung cancer and Lynch syndrome, and prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing in Australia.

This study reviewed and, where possible, updated the estimated health benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of screening approaches from modelling studies for four cancer types, PSA testing and Lynch syndrome testing in Australia. Costs are presented in 2018 Australian dollars.

It found that current evidence supports a favourable cost-effectiveness and benefit-to-harm balance for the NCSP and NBCSP. An updated cost-effectiveness and benefits-to-harms analysis for BreastScreen Australia is required. Carefully founded quantitative estimates of health benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness provide an important aid to policy decision making, and form the basis for developing decision aids to guide individual screening decisions. Opportunities exist for lung cancer screening, systematic Lynch syndrome testing and informed decision making about PSA testing. However, more evidence is required on risk assessment, targeting of screening tests, optimal referral pathways, managing potential harms and delivering services in a cost-effective framework.

Key points:

  • The current population screening programs for cervical and colorectal cancers were found to be cost-effective and have a highly favourable benefit-toharm balance
  • Further research should focus on deriving well-validated, locally applicable, quantitative estimates of benefits and harms (e.g. overdiagnosis and overtreatment) of the national breast cancer screening program and emerging screening approaches
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