The role of inadequate health literacy skills in colorectal cancer screening

Cancer Invest. 2001;19(2):193-200. doi: 10.1081/cnv-100000154.


Colorectal cancer is ideally suited for early detection strategies that are likely to improve survival rates. Screening with either a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or flexible sigmoidoscopy has been shown to identify precancerous polyps or cancers in early stages. However, persons with limited education and of lower socioeconomic status infrequently participate in screening programs in general and have very low rates of colorectal screening. Low literacy, which is common among persons with limited education and low income, may be an overlooked factor in understanding patients' decision making about colorectal cancer screening. This article provides information from focus groups about colorectal cancer screening, which we examine in the context of relevant literature on cancer screening and literacy. Using the health belief model, we examine the association between inadequate health literacy skills and low rates of colorectal cancer screening. The theoretical model also provides insights into strategies for improving knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs and screening rates for this challenging patient population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Educational Status*
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening*
  • Occult Blood
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Survival Rate