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Public understanding of the purpose of cancer screening: A population-based survey

Chorley, AJ; Hirst, Y; Vrinten, C; von Wagner, C; Wardle, J; Waller, J; (2017) Public understanding of the purpose of cancer screening: A population-based survey. Journal of Medical Screening 10.1177/0969141317699440. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

Objectives In examining informed choice in cancer screening, we investigated public awareness that some screening programmes aim to prevent cancer, while others seek to detect cancer at an early stage. Methods A population-based survey of adults aged 50-70 in England (n = 1433), including data on demographic characteristics and screening experience. Participants were asked to select the main purpose of cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer screening (both faecal occult blood testing and flexible sigmoidoscopy). Results Across all four screening programmes, most people thought the main aim was to catch cancer early (71-78%). Only 18 and 14% knew that cervical screening and flexible sigmoidoscopy, respectively, are primarily preventive. Knowledge of the preventive aspect of these two programmes was low across the board, with few demographic patterns. By contrast, 78 and 73% of the sample were aware that breast screening and the faecal occult blood test, respectively, predominantly aim to detect cancer early. For these programmes, accurate knowledge was socially graded, lower in ethnic minority groups, and positively associated with previous participation in the programmes. Conclusions Our findings suggest that although awareness of the purpose of early detection screening is high, awareness that screening can prevent cancer is low across all demographic groups. Understanding the purpose of screening is a key aspect of informed choice but despite current communication strategies highlighting these differences, people do not seem to have a nuanced understanding of these differing aims. Our findings may be indicative of a broader public scepticism about the preventability of cancer.

Type: Article
Title: Public understanding of the purpose of cancer screening: A population-based survey
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/0969141317699440
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0969141317699440
Language: English
Additional information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Keywords: Cancer screening, cancer knowledge, cancer prevention, early diagnosis, informed choice, public awareness
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Pop Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Pop Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Behavioural Science and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Pop Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Epidemiology and Public Health
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1557343
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