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Study finds support for colorectal cancer screening

Student looking away smiling

Friday 25 March 2011 8:26am

New University of Otago research suggests many New Zealanders may hold generally positive views about using tests detecting hidden faecal blood to screen for the country’s second largest cancer killer, colorectal cancer.

The acceptability of faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) to the public has previously been identified by other researchers as one of the biggest challenges a colorectal screening programme in New Zealand would face. The Waitemata District Health Board is due to begin a four-year pilot programme using this testing later this year.

To gauge perceptions that might influence participation in FOBT screening, University of Otago researchers undertook in-depth interviews with European New Zealanders in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch who were aged between 50 and 71. The findings appear in this week’s edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Study author Dr Tony Reeder says that the interview subjects generally appreciated that early-stage colorectal cancer was potentially treatable and strongly supported population screening.

“The positive aspects they identified included that FOBT was painless, simple, relatively low-cost, and that it could be done at home and in private. There were however some concerns about the awkwardness of specimen collection and the test’s accuracy.”

While some study participants held concerns about FOBT’s reliability, others considered that regular testing could overcome limitations, he says.

Although men had a similar risk, many participants felt that men were less likely to take part than women. This was because they tended to have less preventive attitudes, less experience of health responsibilities and no prior involvement in population screening programmes.

“There was also a perception that the health system lacks the capacity and resources to promote and deliver such a programme. Given the current low profile of colorectal cancer, participants felt that the government had a responsibility to run a high-profile education campaign beforehand to encourage screening participation.”

Dr Reeder says the study participants had been surprised to learn how common and deadly a disease colorectal cancer is in New Zealand, and that this low awareness is in line with findings from previous focus groups.

For more information, contact

Dr Tony Reeder
Cancer Society Social & Behavioural Research Unit
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7257 (or leave a message with Nathalie Huston at 64 3 479 7177)

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