Colorectal cancer screening

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Colorectal cancer is one of the most common malignancies in Australia, and screening to detect it an earlier stage is cost-effective. Furthermore, detection and removal of precursor polyps can reduce incidence. Currently, there are limited data to determine the screening rate in Australia, but it is certainly lower than the 80% screening rate considered desirable. Whether colonoscopy is used as the screening test or to follow up positive results of an initial non-invasive test, it plays a fundamental role. Despite high sensitivity and specificity, it is expensive and invasive with measurable risk and is not acceptable as an initial test to many participants. It does not provide complete protection, and interval cancers between planned colonoscopies are associated with proximal location, origin in sessile serrated adenomas and operator-dependent factors. An essential component of colorectal screening is the measurement of colonoscopy quality indicators, such as caecal intubation and adenoma detection rates, which are known to be associated with the rate of interval cancer. The non-invasive screening test currently recommended in Australia is biennial testing for faecal occult blood between the ages of 50 and 75 using a faecal immunochemical test, with positives evaluated by colonoscopy. This is provided through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, currently for those at the ages of 50, 55, 60 and 65 years, with full implementation of biennial screening by 2020. To improve screening in Australia, the most fruitful approach may be to acknowledge that there is a choice of screening tests and to focus on the goal of improving overall participation rate and being able to measure this.

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