Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in the UK: incidence increases with age, median age at diagnosis being over 70 years. Approximately 25% of cases occur in individuals with a family history of CRC, including 5% caused by familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis CRC (HNPCC). Most develop from adenomatous polyps arising from the intestine lining. Individuals with these polyps undergo polypectomy and are invited for endoscopic surveillance. Screening via faecal occult blood testing has been rolled out across the UK.
To evaluate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of drug and micronutrient interventions for the prevention of CRC and/or adenomatous polyps. Interventions considered include: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin and cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors; folic acid; calcium; vitamin D and antioxidants (including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene). Chemoprevention was assessed in the general population, in individuals at increased risk of CRC, and in individuals with FAP or HNPCC.
A systematic review identified randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing drug and nutritional agents for the prevention of CRC or adenomatous polyps. A separate search identified qualitative studies relating to individuals' views, attitudes and beliefs about chemoprevention. MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane CENTRAL Register of Controlled Trials, DARE, NHS-EED (NHS Economic Evaluation Database), HTA database, Science Citation Index, BIOSIS previews and the Current Controlled Trials research register were searched in June 2008. Data were extracted by one reviewer and checked by a second.
The synthesis methods used were systematic review and meta-analysis for RCTs and qualitative framework synthesis for qualitative studies. A health economic model was developed to assess the cost-effectiveness of chemoprevention for two populations with different levels of risk of developing CRC: the general population and an intermediate-risk population.
The search identified 44 relevant RCTs and six ongoing studies. A small study of aspirin in FAP patients produced no statistically significant reduction in polyp number but a possible reduction in polyp size. There was a statistically significant 21% reduction in risk of adenoma recurrence [relative risk (RR) 0.79, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.68 to 0.92] in an analysis of aspirin versus no aspirin in individuals with a history of adenomas or CRC. In the general population, a significant 26% reduction in CRC incidence was demonstrated in studies with a 23-year follow-up (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.97). Non-aspirin NSAID use in FAP individuals produced a non-statistically significant reduction in adenoma incidence after 4 years of treatment and follow-up and reductions in polyp number and size. In individuals with a history of adenomas there was a statistically significant 34% reduction in adenoma recurrence risk (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.72) and a statistically significant 55% reduction in advanced adenoma incidence (RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.35 to 0.58). No studies assessed the effect of non-aspirin NSAIDs in the general population. There were no studies of folic acid in individuals with FAP or HNPCC. There was no significant effect of folic acid versus placebo on adenoma recurrence (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.39) or advanced adenoma incidence in individuals with a history of adenomas. In the general population there was no significant effect of folic acid on risk of CRC (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.64), although studies were of relatively short duration. Calcium use by FAP patients produced no significant reduction in polyp number or disease progression. In individuals with a history of adenomas there was a statistically significant 18% reduction in risk of adenoma recurrence (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.69 to 0.98) and a non-significant reduction in risk of advanced adenomas (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.17). In the general population there was no significant effect of calcium on risk of CRC (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.34), although studies were of relatively short duration. There were no studies of antioxidant use in individuals with FAP or HNPCC, and in individuals with a history of adenomas no statistically significant differences in relative risk of adenoma recurrence were found. In the general population there was no difference in incidence of CRC (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.13) with antioxidant use compared with no antioxidant use. Twenty studies reported qualitative findings concerning chemoprevention. People are more likely to use NSAIDs if there is a strong perceived need. Perceptions of risk and benefit also influence decision-making and use. People have fewer concerns about using antioxidants or other supplements, but their perception of the benefits of these agents is less well-defined. The model analysis suggested that the most cost-effective age-range policy in the general population would be to provide chemoprevention to all individuals within the general population from age 50 to 60 years. The use of aspirin in addition to screening within the general population is likely to result in a discounted cost per life-year gained of around 10,000 pounds and a discounted cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained of around 23,000 pounds compared with screening alone. In the intermediate-risk group the most economically viable age-range policy would be to provide chemoprevention to individuals following polypectomy aged 61 to 70 years. Calcium is likely to have a discounted cost per QALY gained of around 8000 pounds compared with screening alone. Although aspirin in addition to screening should be more effective and less costly than screening alone, under the current assumptions of benefits to harms of aspirin and calcium, aspirin is expected to be extendedly dominated by calcium.
Whilst a number of studies were included in the review, the duration of follow-up was generally insufficient to detect an effect on cancer incidence. Given the uncertainties and ambiguities in the evidence base, the results of the health economic analysis should be interpreted with caution.
Aspirin and celecoxib may reduce recurrence of adenomas and incidence of advanced adenomas in individuals with an increased risk of CRC and calcium may reduce recurrence of adenomas in this group. COX-2 inhibitors may decrease polyp number in patients with FAP. There is some evidence for aspirin reducing the incidence of CRC in the general population. Both aspirin and NSAIDs are associated with adverse effects so it will be important to consider the risk-benefit ratio before recommending these agents for chemoprevention. The economic analysis suggests that chemoprevention has the potential to represent a cost-effective intervention, particularly when targeted at intermediate-risk populations following polypectomy.