Patient preferences for colorectal cancer screening

J Fam Pract. 1997 Sep;45(3):211-8.


Background: New guidelines include several options for colorectal cancer screening. The goal of this study was to assess patient preferences for five approaches: no screening, fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, and colonoscopy.

Methods: Patients from offices of primary care providers listened to a scripted oral presentation while viewing a table describing five screening methods and their outcomes. Immediately following the presentation, the subjects completed a questionnaire assessing their most preferred screening option and their likelihood of undergoing each option.

Results: One hundred subjects aged 50 to 75 years participated. The average age was 64 years; 54 of the subjects were women, and 87 were white. Ninety-six percent of patients preferred to be screened by some method. When asked which test they would choose as their primary method of screening, 38% preferred colonoscopy, 31% preferred FOBT, 14% preferred barium enema, and 13% preferred flexible sigmoidoscopy. When asked how likely they would be to undergo each procedure on a 5-point scale, patients rated FOBT highest with an average score of 4.4, followed by colonoscopy (3.4), barium enema (3.4), flexible sigmoidoscopy (3.4), and no screening (1.5). Acceptance rates for these tests when recommended by their physician were 96% (FOBT), 82% (flexible sigmoidoscopy), 92% (barium enema), and 86% (colonoscopy).

Conclusions: Patients indicated a strong preference for colorectal cancer screening, but they did not indicate a dominant preference for any single screening test. Physicians need to take into account individual patient preferences when making recommendations regarding colorectal cancer screening.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Barium
  • California
  • Colonoscopy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Enema
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occult Blood
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Participation*
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Barium