Comparing barriers to colorectal cancer screening with barriers to breast and cervical screening: a population-based survey of screening-age women in Great Britain

J Med Screen. 2013 Jun;20(2):73-9. doi: 10.1177/0969141313492508. Epub 2013 Jun 10.


Objective: Uptake of cancer screening tends to be lower for colorectal cancer (CRC) than cervical or breast cancer. Dislike of the test itself has often been identified as a barrier to CRC screening with the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test, but there have been no head-to-head comparisons of the three tests.

Methods: Women aged 50-80 (n = 890) were recruited in spring 2012 as part of a population-based TNS Research International survey in Great Britain. Those in the eligible age range were asked if they had ever participated in breast, cervical or CRC screening. For each screening test, women who had never participated were asked for their 'main reason' using a checklist of barriers.

Results: Among eligible women, 67%, 83% and 90% reported ever having been screened for CRC, cervical and breast cancer respectively. More socioeconomically deprived women were less likely to report any screening, and single women were less likely to report CRC or breast screening than married women. Age was not associated with participation. Overall there were few differences between tests in the reported barriers, but dislike of the test was endorsed more often for CRC screening.

Conclusion: This was the first study to compare barriers to participation in organised screening programmes for CRC, breast and cervical cancer. Cancer screening tests share many barriers, but dislike of the test appears to be a stronger barrier to CRC screening. Women who are non-participants in more than one programme may have more global barriers to screening, such as cancer fatalism. The findings suggest that uptake of CRC screening could be improved by targeting the unpleasantness of stool sampling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*