Assessing awareness of colorectal cancer symptoms: measure development and results from a population survey in the UK

BMC Cancer. 2011 Aug 23:11:366. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-11-366.


Background: This paper describes the development of a Cancer Awareness Measure for colorectal (CRC) cancer (Bowel/Colorectal CAMa) (study 1) and presents key results from a population-representative survey using the measure (study 2).

Methods: STUDY 1: Items were taken from the literature and reviewed by expert groups. A series of three validation studies assessed reliability and validity of the measure. To establish test-retest reliability, 49 people over 50 years of age completed the Bowel/Colorectal CAM on two occasions (range 9-14 days, mean 13.5 days). Construct validity was assessed by comparing responses from bowel cancer experts (n = 16) and the lay public (n = 35). Lastly, a brief intervention study tested sensitivity to change with participants (n = 70) randomly allocated to be given a control leaflet or an intervention leaflet and their responses were compared. STUDY 2: 1520 respondents completed the Bowel/Colorectal CAM in a population survey carried out by TNS-British Market Research Bureau International (TNS-BMRB) in March 2010.

Results: STUDY 1: Internal reliability (Cronbach's alpha = 0.84) was high. Test-retest reliability was over r = 0.7 for warning signs, risk factors and age people are first invited for screening, but lower (between 0.6 and 0.7) for other items (lifetime risk, awareness of bowel cancer screening, age at risk). Bowel cancer experts achieved higher scores than equally educated controls (54.7 [4.3] vs. 42.9 [5.7]; P < 0.001) demonstrating the measure has construct validity and intervention participants showed higher knowledge than controls (51.4 [5.9] vs. 42.9 [5.7]; P < 0.001) suggesting the measure is sensitive to change. STUDY 2: Respondents recalled on average, one CRC sign and one risk factor. There was particularly low prompted awareness of the signs 'lump in the abdomen' (64%) and 'tiredness' (50%) and several lifestyle risk factors for CRC, e.g. exercise (37%).Respondents from more affluent groups had consistently higher knowledge of signs and risk factors compared to those from more deprived groups.

Conclusions: The Bowel/Colorectal CAM meets accepted psychometric criteria for reliability and construct validity and should therefore provide a useful tool for assessment of CRC awareness. The population survey revealed low awareness of several CRC signs and risk factors and emphasises the importance of continuing public education, particularly about the link between lifestyle behaviours and CRC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult