Consider Patient Preference When Offering CRC Screening Tests

Tara Haelle

August 05, 2022

Patients said they'd prefer fecal immunochemical test (FIT)–fecal DNA tests over any of the other colorectal cancer screening (CRC) modalities currently recommended by the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force, according to a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Just over a third of American adults aged 40 and older who hadn't yet been screened for CRC preferred the FIT–fecal DNA test every 3 years, whereas just one in seven respondents preferred a colonoscopy — considered the gold standard in colorectal cancer screening — every 10 years.

"When you talk to patients and to your friends and family members, people tend to think colonoscopy is synonymous with colon cancer screening, but we have lots of different tests," senior author Christopher V. Almario, MD, MSHPM, of the department of medicine at the Karsh division of gastroenterology and hepatology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, said in an interview.

"Most people in general tend to prefer noninvasive stool tests, and when we try to predict who would prefer what, we actually couldn't, so this is a very personal decision," Almario said. "It's important for clinicians to offer multiple choices to their patients, not to mention just colonoscopy. We have data from observing clinician-patient interactions showing that, a lot of times, colonoscopy is the only test that's offered, despite there being multiple options."

At the very least, Almario said, providers should offer patients a colonoscopy along with a noninvasive test, particularly a stool test, and discuss the two options, getting the patient's input in terms of what they prefer. "The best test is the test that actually gets done," he said.

Offering Patients Options

Reid M. Ness, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, was not involved with the study but wasn't surprised at the findings since "most people wisely prefer to avoid invasive procedures," he said in an interview. He agreed that many patients aren't necessarily informed of all their options for screening.

"Many people who are now being offered colonoscopy as their only screening option may prefer a noninvasive option, such as FIT or multitarget stool DNA testing," Ness said. "Also, people now refusing colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening may instead accept FIT or multitarget stool DNA testing. It is difficult to know how many people now refusing colorectal cancer screening may have accepted screening if it had been offered differently."

That's precisely what Almario and his colleagues wanted to find out. They surveyed 1,000 people aged 40 and older who were at average risk for colorectal cancer to find out their preferences for different screening modalities and what features of different screening types they most valued. The researchers asked about the following screening tests recommended by the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force:

  • FIT every year.

  • FIT–fecal DNA every 3 years.

  • Colon video capsule every 5 years.

  • CT colonography every 5 years.

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.

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

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," Ness said. "They are able to justify this choice given colonoscopy remains the most accurate screening modality."

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," 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 (= .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, 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," 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," 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 board with Exact Sciences. The other authors and Ness had no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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