Cancer screening recommendations: An international comparison of high income countries

Mark H. Ebell, Thuy Nhu Thai, Kyle J. Royalty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Background: Recommendations regarding cancer screening vary from country to country, and may also vary within countries depending on the organization making the recommendations. The goal of this study was to summarize the cancer screening recommendations from the 21 countries with the highest per capita spending on healthcare. Main body: Cancer screening guidelines were identified for each country based on a review of the medical literature, internet searches, and contact with key informants in most countries. The highest level recommendation was identified for each country, in the order of national recommendation, cancer society recommendation, or medical specialty society recommendation. Breast cancer screening recommendations were generally consistent across countries, most commonly recommending mammography biennially from ages 50 to 69 or 70 years. In the USA, specialty societies generally offered more intensive screening recommendations. All countries also recommend cervical cancer screening, although there is some heterogeneity regarding the test (cytology or HPV or both) and the age of initiation and screening interval. Most countries recommend colorectal cancer screening using fecal immunochemical (FIT) testing, while only seven countries recommend general or selective screening for prostate cancer, and a similar number explicitly recommend against screening for prostate cancer. Screening for lung and skin cancer is only recommended by a few countries. Greater per capita healthcare expenditures are not associated with greater screening intensity, with the possible exception of prostate cancer. Conclusions: Guidelines for cancer screening differ between countries, with areas of commonality but also clear differences. Recommendations have important commonalities for well-established cancer screening programs such as breast and cervical cancer, with greater variation between countries regarding prostate, colorectal, lung, and skin cancer screening. Ideally, recommendations should be made by a professionally diverse, independent panel of experts that make evidence-based recommendations regarding screening based on the benefits, harms, and available resources in that country's context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalPublic Health Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer screening
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Healthcare economics
  • Lung cancer
  • Overdiagnosis
  • Prostate cancer
  • Skin cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Community and Home Care
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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