Open Access Study protocol

Prevalence of the use of cancer related self-tests by members of the public: a community survey

Sue Wilson1*, Sheila Greenfield1, Helen M Pattison2, Angela Ryan1, Richard J McManus1, David Fitzmaurice1, John Marriott2, Cyril Chapman3 and Sue Clifford1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Primary Care and General Practice, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

2 School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham, B4 7ET, UK

3 Regional Genetics Service, The Women's Hospital, Birmingham, B15 2TJ, UK

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:215  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-215

Published: 25 August 2006

Abstract

Background

Self-tests are those where an individual can obtain a result without recourse to a health professional, by getting a result immediately or by sending a sample to a laboratory that returns the result directly. Self-tests can be diagnostic, for disease monitoring, or both. There are currently tests for more than 20 different conditions available to the UK public, and self-testing is marketed as a way of alerting people to serious health problems so they can seek medical help. Almost nothing is known about the extent to which people self-test for cancer or why they do this. Self-tests for cancer could alter perceptions of risk and health behaviour, cause psychological morbidity and have a significant impact on the demand for healthcare. This study aims to gain an understanding of the frequency of self-testing for cancer and characteristics of users.

Methods

Cross-sectional survey. Adults registered in participating general practices in the West Midlands Region, will be asked to complete a questionnaire that will collect socio-demographic information and basic data regarding previous and potential future use of self-test kits. The only exclusions will be people who the GP feels it would be inappropriate to send a questionnaire, for example because they are unable to give informed consent. Freepost envelopes will be included and non-responders will receive one reminder. Standardised prevalence rates will be estimated.

Discussion

Cancer related self-tests, currently available from pharmacies or over the Internet, include faecal occult blood tests (related to bowel cancer), prostate specific antigen tests (related to prostate cancer), breast cancer kits (self examination guide) and haematuria tests (related to urinary tract cancers). The effect of an increase in self-testing for cancer is unknown but may be considerable: it may affect the delivery of population based screening programmes; empower patients or cause unnecessary anxiety; reduce costs on existing healthcare services or increase demand to investigate patients with positive test results. It is important that more is known about the characteristics of those who are using self-tests if we are to determine the potential impact on health services and the public.