The Mail Improves Cancer Screening Rates

Colorectal cancer screenings using mailed FOBT kits improved compliance

(RxWiki News) Colorectal cancer screening rates could be better. Most people just don’t want to mess with the tests or the expenses of these screenings. These already low rates are even lower among poor people, racial minorities and people who don’t speak English very well.

More low-income people and minorities got screened for colorectal cancer when they were mailed test kits they could use in the own homes and mail back.

"Get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50."

Researchers representing several Chicago-based institutions conducted a study to find a more effective way of screening racially diverse and poorer individuals for colorectal cancer.

The study involved about 200 people aged 50 to 80 years old who were overdue for colorectal cancer screening. They had been seen in a community clinic at least twice in the previous 18 months.

The study members were divided into two groups – outreach intervention or usual care.

A total of 104 patients were assigned to the intervention group. They were mailed a fact sheet about colorectal cancer and a fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) kit. This easy-to-use test looks for blood in the stool.

The other 98 people received usual care, meaning they were urged to get screened, but not given any special tools like the other group was.

The study looked at who had screening during a 4-month timeframe. Of those in the intervention group, 30 percent got screened for colorectal cancer, compared with 5 percent in the usual care group. 

FOBT was used in nearly all of the screenings. Other screening options available included sigmoidoscopy (test that examines part of the colon) or colonoscopy (test that looks at the whole colon).

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

National guidelines recommend that all individuals 50 and older be screened for colorectal cancer. Yet, only about half of the people that should be screened actually have the screenings.

The authors concluded that mailing FOBT kits was effective among people with limited resources and language skills because it dealt with the most common financial, transportation and family time barriers.

As a result, they concluded that “the direct mailing of FOBT kits to patients eligible for colorectal cancer screening may be a particularly desirable approach to improving adherence to colorectal cancer screening guidelines in historically underserved communities.”

This study was published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The research was funded by a grant from the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and research funding from the National Center for Research Resources and National Institutes of Health. No author reported a conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
September 12, 2012