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Equity and practice issues in colorectal cancer screening: mixed methods study


Objective — To investigate overall colorectal cancer (CRC) screening rates, patterns in the use of types of CRC screening, and sociodemographic characteristics associated with CRC screening; and to gain insight into physicians’ perceptions about and use of fecal occult blood testing [FOBT] and colonoscopy for patients at average risk of CRC.

Design — Mixed-methods study using cross-sectional administrative data on patient sociodemographic characteristics and semistructured telephone interviews with physicians.

Setting — Toronto, Ont.

Participants — Patients aged 50 to 74 years and physicians in family health teams in the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network.

Main Outcome Measures — Rates of CRC screening by type; sociodemographic characteristics associated with CRC screening; thematic analysis using constant comparative method for semistructured interviews.

Main Findings — Ontario administrative data on CRC screening showed lower overall screening rates among those who were younger, male patients, those who had lower income, and recent immigrants. Colonoscopy rates were especially low among those with lower income and those who were recent immigrants. Semistructured interviews revealed that physician opinions about CRC screening for average-risk patients were divided: one group of physicians accepted the evidence and recommendations for FOBT and the other group of physicians strongly supported colonoscopy for these patients, believing that the FOBT was an inferior screening method. Physicians identified specialist recommendations and patient expectations as factors that influenced their decisions regarding CRC screening type.

Conclusion — There was considerable variation in CRC screening by sociodemographic characteristics. A key theme that emerged from the interviews was that physicians were divided in their preference for FOBT or colonoscopy; factors that influenced physician preference included the healthcare system, recommendations by other specialists, and patient characteristics. Providing an informed choice of screening method to patients might result in higher screening rates and fewer disparities. Changes in policy and physician attitudes might be needed in order for this to occur.



Buchman S, Rozmovits L, Glazier RH. Can Fam Physician. 2016; 62(4):E186-193.

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