Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Defining the relevant healthcare professional and facilities

Depending on each country’s health system and culture, different health professionals can be involved in kit delivery and stool sampling collection or in delivering bowel preparation for endoscopy screening (i.e. GPs, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, volunteers from no-profit organisations, etc.), as well as in performing sigmoidoscopy when offered as a screening test (i.e. GPs, nurses gastroenterologists,). Each country should follow quality assurance standards for the facilities and establish minimum training requirements for each type of professional, fulfilling the present guidelines

Diagnostic and treatment centres  

Screening will be neither effective nor efficient if patients with a positive FOBT or FS are not followed up with a proper evaluation of the entire colon and appropriate management, if needed. Trained endoscopists are essential, and each programme should establish and monitor validated training for colonoscopy, following the guidelines in Chapter 6. To help in the planning of location of endoscopic services for screening, five levels of competency are proposed in Chapter 5 (see 5.3.1). The definitions of the proposed levels take into account the facilities and the level of competency which are necessary to remove screen-detected lesions, and consequently how often the patients should be referred elsewhere in order to have the detected lesions safely and expertly removed. If all resources are not available in a given area, large centres, particularly for diagnosis and treatment, can serve more than one area, provided that adequate communication is established.

Considering the different healthcare environments, public health specialists with adequate epidemiological knowledge or equivalent expertise are recommended. These professionals are needed from the onset, to ensure that the programme includes a population-based information system that monitors each step of the screening process. They will then be responsible for gathering data and for ongoing monitoring in order to identify problems that need intervention. These public health specialists can be based at a national or regional level, whereas the other health professionals who are providing screening services are needed in each area. Public health specialists should have training in and an understanding of basic epidemiology, statistics and communication.

What factors should be considered when deciding which primary test to use?  

 According to the findings of a survey of the International ColoRectal Cancer Screening Network (ICRCSN) describing CRC screening protocols adopted in various countries, a number of diverse screening initiatives have been implemented with a wide variation in various aspects of programme implementation including the tests used for primary screening. Currently FOBT is the only primary test recommended by the EU for CRC screening

Today there is a range of options for CRC screening in the average-risk population. The tests commonly adopted in screening interventions include tests for occult blood (either guaiac or immunochemical), sigmoidoscopy (FS) and total colonoscopy (TC). Whether one method is superior to the other is not clear from several analyses (Pignone et al. 2002; Zauber et al. 2008). Although clear experimental evidence is available only for FOBT, FS and TC are commonly considered as reasonable alternatives (see Chapter 1). It has been suggested that a country’s screening initiative should be adapted to suit population size, healthcare system and methods of funding, and should be individualised to practice settings and if possible to people (Benson et al. 2008; Whitlock et al. 2008). Thus, when deciding which primary test to use, several factors should be considered. Some of them are connected with country-specific conditions.

Gender and age differences  

CRC incidence and mortality are consistently lower among women than among men, and they show an increasing trend with age, although age-specific CRC incidence and mortality vary strongly within Europe. Comparative analyses of age- and gender specific CRC incidence and mortality in 38 European countries indicate that the differences across countries translate to wide age ranges at which comparable levels of risk are reached. The risk advancement attributable to these geographical differences in age-specific incidence and mortality rates across Europe has been estimated to be up to 10 years or more, while the lower incidence and mortality among women quite consistently translates to an age difference of approximately 4–8 years at which comparable levels of risk are reached (Regula et al. 2006; Brenner et al. 2007b; Brenner, Hoffmeister & Haug 2008). CRC incidence and mortality represent important parameters affecting potential benefits of screening, which must be weighed against costs and potential adverse side effects when choosing the age of screening initiation. 

Cost-effectiveness modelling of different strategies was generally consistent in evaluating as efficient to begin screening between 50 and 60 (Eddy 1990; Ness et al. 2000); decreasing the stop age from 85 to 75 yielded a small reduction in life-years gained with a large reduction in the number of tests. Another important factor when assessing the age at which to stop screening is the remaining life expectancy. 


Acceptability of the proposed strategy and test represents a critical determinant of the impact of an organised programme. It influences the cost-effectiveness of the most commonly recommended tests due to different levels of participation (Zauber et al. 2008). The effectiveness of an intervention is therefore influenced by the compliance level that can be achieved, and ultimately the best option for a patient is the one he or she will attend. It has been suggested that the relevant information when comparing different strategies should be the estimate of the level of relative adherence to different tests which provide comparable levels of life-years gained per number of colonoscopies. More accept-able tests would pick up a higher proportion of prevalent lesions, even if their sensitivity were low, because more people would attend screening

 Differences in exclusion criteria, if any, should be taken into account.

Thus the availability of different screening methods that would allow individuals in the target population to choose their preferred strategy based on their preferences and values does not seem to be an effective option. The offer of a choice between two tests was not associated with increased coverage in a recent trial (Segnan et al. 2005). Offering an alternative test to people refusing the main screening strategy of a screening programme might represent a feasible option (Zorzi et al. 2007). However, the sustainability and the organisational impact of such strategy should be assessed at the local level.  

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