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Colorectal cancer screening compliance best when patients given choices

April 14, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) While colonoscopy remains the best possible screening test for colorectal cancer, any test at all is better than none. A recent study looked at who is actually having cancer screening tests.

In a survey, patients who were asked to make an appointment for colorectal cancer (CRC) screening were studied to see if the type of test affected compliance.

Race, age, and language were cited as appearing to influence patients' decisions.

"Ask your doctor about all your options for colon cancer screening."

The study followed 997 patients from the San Francisco Community Health Network. The average age was 58, and half of the patients were women. 

The results were telling. Patients asked to get a simple test that checks for the presence of blood in the stool had a far higher compliance rate, 67 percent, while only 38 percent of patients told they needed a colonoscopy actually got the test. 

Patients given a choice between colon screening test types had the highest compliance rate - 69 percent.

While doctors would prefer their patients were examined via colonoscopy, any screening is better than none. As Theodore R. Levin, M.D. from Kaiser Permanente puts it, "When it comes to CRC screening, providing an option other than colonoscopy for our patients is not overwhelming, but necessary."

Colonoscopy is recommended for everyone over the age of 50 at least once a decade until the age of 75, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the most expensive colorectal cancer screening test, requires preparation and anesthesia.

It was not studied whether the biggest obstacle for colonoscopy is the cost of the exam or the discomfort.

In comparison to a colonoscopy, the fecal occult blood test can be performed without any specialized equipment. It can be performed at the same time as a gynecological exam, or when prostate health is checked.

Study authors reminded doctors to be flexible and keep in mind that any screening for colon cancer was better than none.

Results and analysis were published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine on April 9, 2012. 

Research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

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Review Date: 
April 12, 2012
Last Updated:
April 14, 2012