Coaxing People to Test Themselves for Colon Cancer

Direct mailing of test kits and follow-up reminders increased screening rates

WEDNESDAY, May 19, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Current guidelines recommend that all Americans over 50 get a special stool sample-based test called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) each year, to check for signs of colon cancer. Now, researchers report that mailing patients a FOBT kit and a reminder to use the kit greatly increases colorectal cancer screening rates.

University of Minnesota researchers report the findings in the May 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study included 1,451 people aged 50 and older who were divided into three groups. Those in the control group received a questionnaire that asked them about their use of colorectal cancer screening tests. The people in the second group received the questionnaire and an FOBT kit, while those in the third group received the questionnaire, the kit and reminders to complete the FOBT test.

At the start of the study, 21.5 percent of the participants reported they followed the guidelines for FOBT and 55.8 percent said they followed at least one of the U.S. national guidelines for colorectal cancer screening.

A year later, the percentage of study participants who reported following the FOBT guidelines increased by 1.5 percent in the control group, by 16.9 percent in the group that received kits, and by 23.2 percent in the group that received both the kits and the reminders.

The study authors said in a statement that the results "suggest that the direct mailing of FOBT kits can be used to effect a change in the screening behavior of a large number of people who could benefit from regular colorectal cancer screening."

U.S. national guidelines recommend one of four screening methods for colorectal cancer for people aged 50 and older. These include: an annual FOBT; a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years; a colonoscopy every 10 years; or a double-contrast barium enema X-ray every five years.

Each year, about 148,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 56,000 die from the disease.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about colorectal cancer.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, May 18, 2004
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