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Open Access Research article

Gender differences in attitudes impeding colorectal cancer screening

Paul Ritvo12*, Ronald E Myers3, Lawrence Paszat45, Mardie Serenity6, Daniel F Perez12 and Linda Rabeneck78

Author Affiliations

1 School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, 136 Chemistry Building, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada

2 Research, Prevention and Cancer Control, Cancer Care Ontario, 505 University Avenue, Toronto, ON M5G 2L7, Canada

3 Division of Population Science, Department of Medical Oncology, Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA

4 Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5, Canada

5 Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 155 College Street, Toronto, ON M5T 3M7, Canada

6 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5, Canada

7 Prevention and Cancer Control, 620 University Avenue, Toronto, ON M5G 2L7, Canada

8 Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, 1 Kings College Circle, Toronto, ON M5S 1A8, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:500  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-500

Published: 24 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Colorectal cancer screening (CRCS) is the only type of cancer screening where both genders reduce risks by similar proportions with identical procedures. It is an important context for examining gender differences in disease-prevention, as CRCS significantly reduces mortality via early detection and prevention. In efforts to increase screening adherence, there is increasing acknowledgment that obstructive attitudes prevent CRCS uptake. Precise identification of the gender differences in obstructive attitudes is necessary to improve uptake promotion. This study randomly sampled unscreened, screening - eligible individuals in Ontario, employing semi-structured interviews to elicit key differences in attitudinal obstructions towards colorectal cancer screening with the aim of deriving informative differences useful in planning promotions of screening uptake.

Methods

N = 81 participants (49 females, 32 males), 50 years and above, with no prior CRCS, were contacted via random-digit telephone dialing, and consented via phone-mail contact. Altogether, N = 4,459 calls were made to yield N = 85 participants (1.9% response rate) of which N = 4 participants did not complete interviews. All subjects were eligible for free-of-charge CRCS in Ontario, and each was classified, via standard interview by CRCS screening decision-stage. Telephone-based, semi-structured interviews (SSIs) were employed to investigate gender differences in CRCS attitudes, using questions focused on 5 attitudinal domains: 1) Screening experience at the time of interview; 2) Barriers to adherence; 3) Predictors of Adherence; 4) Pain-anxiety experiences related to CRCS; 5) Gender-specific experiences re: CRCS, addressing all three modalities accessible through Ontario’s program: a) fecal occult blood testing; b) flexible sigmoidoscopy; c) colonoscopy.

Results

Interview transcript analyses indicated divergent themes related to CRCS for each gender: 1) bodily intrusion, 2) perforation anxiety, and 3) embarrassment for females and; 1) avoidant procrastination with underlying fatalism, 2) unnecessary health care and 3) uncomfortable vulnerability for males. Respondents adopted similar attitudes towards fecal occult blood testing, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, and were comparable in decision stage across tests. Gender differences were neither closely tied to screening stage nor modality. Women had more consistent physician relationships, were more screening-knowledgeable and better able to articulate views on screening. Men reported less consistent physician relationships, were less knowledgeable and kept decision-making processes vague and emotionally distanced (i.e. at ‘arm’s length’).

Conclusions

Marked differences were observed in obstructive CRCS attitudes per gender. Females articulated reservations about CRCS-associated distress and males suppressed negative views while ambiguously procrastinating about the task of completing screening. Future interventions could seek to reduce CRCS-related stress (females) and address the need to overcome procrastination (males).