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Why colorectal screening fails to achieve the uptake rates of breast and cervical cancer screening: a comparative qualitative study

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Marie Kotzur, Colin McCowan, Sara Macdonald, Sally Wyke, Lauren Gatting, Christine Campbell, David Weller, Emilia Crighton, Robert Steele, Kathryn Robb

School/Research organisations


Background In Scotland, the uptake of clinic-based breast (72%) and cervical (77%) screening is higher than home-based colorectal screening (~60%). To inform new approaches to increase uptake of colorectal screening, we compared the perceptions of colorectal screening among women with different screening histories.

Methods We purposively sampled women with different screening histories to invite to semistructured interviews: (1) participated in all; (2) participated in breast and cervical but not colorectal (‘colorectal-specific non-participants’); (3) participated in none. To identify the sample we linked the data for all women eligible for all three screening programmes in Glasgow, Scotland (aged 51–64 years; n=68 324). Interviews covered perceptions of cancer, screening and screening decisions. Framework method was used for analysis.

Results Of the 2924 women invited, 86 expressed an interest, and 59 were interviewed. The three groups’ perceptions differed, with the colorectal-specific non-participants expressing that: (1) treatment for colorectal cancer is more severe than for breast or cervical cancer; (2) colorectal symptoms are easier to self-detect than breast or cervical symptoms; (3) they worried about completing the test incorrectly; and (4) the colorectal test could be more easily delayed or forgotten than breast or cervical screening.

Conclusion Our comparative approach suggested targets for future interventions to increase colorectal screening uptake including: (1) reducing fear of colorectal cancer treatments; (2) increasing awareness that screening is for the asymptomatic; (3) increasing confidence to self-complete the test; and (4) providing a suggested deadline and/or additional reminders.



Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Quality & Safety
VolumeOnline First
Early online date26 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Dec 2019

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