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Media coverage has boosted awareness of colorectal cancer screening, but messages need to be more targeted

The surge in media attention heralded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Screen for Life campaign in 1999 has boosted public awareness about certain aspects of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening and dispelled some misconceptions about who is at risk. However, media coverage has been less effective in reaching certain segments of society, notably blacks and people with less education. It has also been less effective in communicating the important role that polyps play as potential precursors to cancer and the fact that early CRC has no symptoms.

Those are the conclusions of a study led by Paul C. Schroy III, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston University School of Medicine, and supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13912). Dr. Schroy and fellow researchers administered a 12-item true/false questionnaire to 356 adults aged 50 to 75 years from 2 urban primary care sites. Most of those surveyed were aware that both men and women are at risk (84 percent of respondents), risk increases after age 50 (71 percent), all racial and ethic groups are affected (88 percent), the goal of screening is to find polyps and cancer before the onset of symptoms (82 percent), early-stage cancers may be curable with surgery (72 percent), screening should begin at age 50 (73 percent), and that CRC can occur in the absence of a family history (67 percent).

Fewer patients were aware that both CRC (58 percent) and polyps (49 percent) may be asymptomatic, most CRC arises from polyps (52 percent), removing polyps can prevent CRC (46 percent), and CRC is the most common cause of cancer death among nonsmokers (26 percent). Scores were significantly higher for whites than blacks and for those with more than a high school education.

These findings underscore the need for more effective, targeted media campaigns capable of reaching at-risk less educated and minority groups. Educational campaigns should also focus on several key messages that have been missed.

See "Has the surge in media attention increased public awareness about colorectal cancer and screening?" by Dr. Schroy, Julie T. Glick, M.P.H., Patricia A. Robinson, M.D., and others, in the February 2008 Journal of Community Health 33(1), pp. 1-9.

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