Patient preferences for colon cancer screening

J Gen Intern Med. 1999 Jul;14(7):432-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1999.00018.x.


Objective: To measure patient preferences for four different screening strategies: annual fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) alone; flexible sigmoidoscopy (FSIG) every 5 years alone; both annual FOBT and FSIG every 5 years; or no screening.

Design: Survey.

Setting: University internal medicine clinic.

Patients: Convenience sample of 146 adults (aged 50-75 years) with no previous history of colon cancer.

Intervention: Three-part educational program on colon cancer screening administered verbally by trained research assistants.

Measurements and main results: Patient preferences for screening were measured at three points: after descriptive information about colon cancer and screening options (testing procedure information); after information about test performance but with no out-of-pocket costs (test performance information); and finally with hypothetical out-of-pocket costs (cost information). After only descriptive test information, the most popular strategies were FOBT alone (45%) or both tests (38%). Fewer patients preferred FSIG alone (13%). After information about test performance, more subjects preferred both tests (47%), and fewer subjects preferred FOBT alone (36%) (p =.12). With hypothetical out-of-pocket costs, the proportion preferring FOBT alone increased to 53%, while those preferring both tests decreased to 31% (p <.001). Less than 5% of patients preferred no screening.

Conclusions: Patient preferences for colon cancer screening were modestly sensitive to information about test performance and strongly sensitive to out-of-pocket costs. The heterogeneity of patients' preferences for how to be screened supports informed shared decision making as a possible means of improving colon cancer screening.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Colonic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occult Blood
  • Odds Ratio
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Sigmoidoscopy