Colonoscopy Prevents 15,000 Cancer Cases - Result Confirms Goals of March's Bowel Cancer Awareness Month
Following the nationwide introduction of colonoscopy as part of the statutory cancer screening program in 2002, scientists of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have now published the first evidence-based evaluation.
Since 2002, statutory health insurances in Germany have offered an endoscopic examination of the colon (colonoscopy) free of charge for all insured persons from the age of 55. Germany was the first country to make nationwide endoscopic screening for bowel cancer a part of its statutory early cancer detection program.
Scientists headed by Professor Hermann Brenner at DKFZ have now published a first calculation of the number of colorectal cancers prevented between 2003 and 2010 thanks to colonoscopy screening. The results will serve as a decision-making basis for an evidence-based evaluation of the program. Moreover, it is important for each participant to know about the benefits of the examination which is wrongly feared by many as being very unpleasant.
The researchers evaluated all 1.8 million colonoscopies which have been carried out to date in the screening program. As a calculation basis they used the number of discovered and removed advanced precancerous lesions (adenomas) which are highly likely to progress into cancer. The epidemiologists have estimated that participation in screening colonoscopy will prevent about 15,000 cases of colorectal cancer by the year 2010.
About 73.000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year in Germany. Around 40 percent of patients die within five years after diagnosis and another portion of sufferers succumb to the disease in the course of the following years. Therefore, Brenner’s research team expects that the colonoscopy program will save around 7,500 lives between the years of 2003 and 2010 thanks to the removal of precancerous lesions alone. Moreover, since colonoscopy examinations detect cancer usually at an early stage when it is still curable, the screening program will prevent even more deaths.
The results obtained are based on complex calculations: The number of advanced adenomas found must calculated against the probability that these cancer precursors turn into cancer within a particular period of time. In addition, the calculation takes account of other factors such as the percentage of screening participants who die of other causes before cancer occurs and the participation rate in the respective age groups.
The investigators calculated the number of cancer cases prevented for each year individually and accumulated the values. Although the number of advanced adenomas discovered remains nearly constant over the years, the rate of cancer cases prevented rises each year, since many of the adenomas discovered and removed would otherwise have become cancerous several years later.
The yearly participation rate in colonoscopy screening has remained almost constant since 2003 at about four percent of eligible women and three percent of eligible men. Participants with inconspicuous examination results are offered a second examination free of charge after ten years. Thus, the total participation rate among those under 70, projected to the ten years between first and second screening colonoscopy, is 40 percent among women and 30 percent among men. “This is not bad for a beginning,” says Hermann Brenner, “but if we succeeded in encouraging even more people to participate in the screening program – such as by sending personal invitations to examinations due – many more cancers could be prevented.”
Hermann Brenner, Michael Hoffmeister, Gerhard Brenner, Lutz Altenhofen, Ulrike Haug: Expected reduction of colorectal cancer incidence within 8 years after introduction of the German screening colonoscopy programme: Estimates based on 1,875,708 screening colonoscopies. European Journal of Cancer (2009), DOI: 10.1016/j.ejca.2009.02.017
The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.