Literacy barriers to colorectal cancer screening in community clinics

J Health Commun. 2012;17 Suppl 3(0 3):252-64. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.713441.


This article examines the relationship between literacy and colorectal cancer (CRC) screening knowledge, beliefs, and experiences, with a focus on fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs). Participants were 975 patients in 8 Louisiana federally qualified health centers. Participants were 50 years of age or older and not up to date with CRC screening; approximately half (52%) had low literacy (less than a 9th-grade level). Participants with low literacy were less likely than were those with adequate literacy to be aware of advertisements promoting CRC screening (58.7% vs. 76.3%, p < .0001) or to believe it was very helpful to find CRC early (74.5% vs. 91.9%, p < .0001). The majority of participants had positive beliefs about the benefits of CRC screening using FOBTs. Participants with low literacy had more perceived barriers to FOBT completion and were more likely to strongly agree or agree that FOBTs would be confusing, embarrassing, or a lot of trouble; however, none of these remained significant in multivariate analyses controlling for relevant covariates. Confidence in being able to obtain an FOBT kit was high among those with low and adequate literacy (89.8% vs. 93.1%, respectively, p = .20); yet multivariate analyses revealed a significant difference in regard to literacy (p = .04) with low-literacy participants indicating less confidence. There was no significant difference by literacy in ever receiving a physician recommendation for CRC screening (38.4% low vs. 39.0% adequate, p = .79); however, multivariate analyses revealed significant differences in FOBT completion by literacy (p = .036). Overall, findings suggest that literacy is a factor in patients' CRC knowledge, beliefs, and confidence in obtaining a FOBT.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Colorectal Neoplasms*
  • Community Health Centers
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Louisiana
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occult Blood*