From the AGA Journals

Patient CRC screening preferences don’t match what they’re being offered



The respondents who completed the online survey were recruited from a sample of more than 20 million people across the United States who have agreed to receive survey invitations. Respondents were excluded if they had a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, had already undergone colorectal cancer screening or had been diagnosed with colon polyps, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

The respondents were split into those aged 40-49 (61% of the sample) who had not yet discussed colorectal cancer screening with their providers and those aged 50 and older, who might have already discussed it and declined. Eighty percent of the respondents were White, 6% were Black, 6% were Hispanic, 4% were Asian, and 3% reported another race/ethnicity. Just over half (52%) had at least two comorbidities. A quarter (25%) reported one comorbidity, and 22% reported none.

In thinking about the decision to get screened, respondents ranked the test type as the most important consideration, followed by the reduction in their chance of developing colorectal cancer and then frequency of the test. Lower priority on the list of considerations were their chances of a complication, bowel prep before the test, and required diet changes before the test.

The test preferred by the highest proportion of respondents was the FIT–fecal DNA test every 3 years, preferred by 35% of respondents, followed by the colon capsule video test every 5 years (28%). About one in seven respondents (14%) preferred a colonoscopy every 10 years, followed by the annual FIT (12%) and CT colonography every 5 years (11%). When limited only to the two tier 1–option tests – the annual FIT or a colonoscopy every 10 years – a substantial majority of the younger (69%) and older (77%) groups preferred the annual FIT.

”This finding is discordant with current CRC screening utilization in the United States where colonoscopy is the most commonly performed test, and this may partially explain our suboptimal screening rates,” the authors wrote. “Our findings suggest that screening programs should strongly consider a sequential-based strategy where FIT is offered first, and if declined then colonoscopy.”

Underlying factors

Dr. Ness said that many primary care providers might prefer to offer colonoscopies instead of annual FIT tests because it’s easier to track a test given every 10 years instead of every year or every 3 years.

“Providers across most of the U.S. are incentivized to recommend colonoscopy as the primary screening modality because the burden of follow-up on them is less,” Dr. Ness said. “They are able to justify this choice given colonoscopy remains the most accurate screening modality.”

Dr. Ness pointed to the programmatic screening program at Kaiser Permanente of Northern California health care system as a model for a program that utilizes FIT tests more often.

“The only way to accomplish an efficient and equitable colorectal cancer screening program is within the context of a national health service or plan,” Dr. Ness added. “Otherwise, the uninsured and underinsured will remain excluded from the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.”

Preferences did not differ a great deal between the age groups, with 35% of the younger group and 37% of the older group both preferring the FIT–fecal DNA tests every 3 years. Slightly more people in the 50+ age group preferred an annual fit (19% vs. 12%) as opposed to the colon capsule video every 5 years (28% of younger group vs. 23%) or colon CT scan every 5 years (11% of younger group vs. 8%), but the differences were statistically significant (P = .019).

In fact, “sociodemographic, clinical characteristics, and colorectal cancer screening knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs were not predictive of selecting FIT or colonoscopy,” the authors found. ”This demonstrates the individualized nature of decision making on colorectal cancer screening tests. Moreover, as most individuals preferred FIT, it again emphasizes the importance of sequential or choice-based strategies for colorectal cancer screening.”

However, one of the study’s notable limitations was its high proportion of White patients relative to other racial/ethnic groups, so additional research may illuminate whether different sociodemographic groups do have slight preferences for one test over another, Dr. Almario said. The advantage to colonoscopies, he noted, is that they only occur every 10 years and if polyps are discovered, they can be taken care of right away.

”You don’t have to think about it for a decade, which is certainly a pro for the colonoscopy,” Dr. Almario said. “The FIT test is obviously less invasive, but you have to do it every year for it to be an effective screening test.” He noted that some data have shown a drop-off in compliance over multiple years. “We certainly need more systems in place to remind patients and providers to do it annually so that we can see the ultimate screening benefit from doing that test specifically.”

“The most important point from the clinical perspective is, when we’re talking to patients about colon cancer screening, make sure to give them a choice,” Dr. Almario said. “We just can’t look at someone’s chart, their clinical characteristics or demographics, and predict what tests they would prefer. We need to ask them. We need to present them with the options, go over the pros and cons of colonoscopy, the pros and cons of the stool test, and ask the patient what they would prefer to do.”

The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. One author served on an advisory panel with Exact Sciences. The other authors and Dr. Ness had no disclosures.

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This article was updated on Aug. 18, 2022.


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