Open Access Research article

Gender differences in predictors of colorectal cancer screening uptake: a national cross sectional study based on the health belief model

Reuben K Wong13*, Mee Lian Wong2, Yiong Huak Chan3, Zhu Feng3, Chun Tao Wai4 and Khay Guan Yeoh13

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Medical Cluster, National University Health System, Singapore, Singapore

2 Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, National University Health System, Singapore, Singapore

3 Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

4 Desmond Wai Liver & Gastrointestinal Diseases Centre, Gleneagles Medical Center, Singapore, Singapore

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:677  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-677

Published: 23 July 2013



Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is rapidly rising in Asia, but screening uptake remains poor. Although studies have reported gender differences in screening rates, there have been few studies assessing gender specific perceptions and barriers towards CRC screening, based on behavioral frameworks. We applied the Health Belief Model to identify gender-specific predictors of CRC screening in an Asian population.


A nationwide representative household survey was conducted on 2000 subjects aged 50 years and above in Singapore from 2007 to 2008. Screening behaviour, knowledge and beliefs on CRC screening were assessed by face-to-face structured interviews. The response rate was 88.2%.


26.7 percent had undergone current CRC screening with no gender difference in rates. Almost all agreed that CRC would lead to suffering (89.8%), death (84.6%) and would pose significant treatment cost and expense (83.1%). The majority (88.5%) agreed that screening aids early detection and cure but only 35.4% felt susceptible to CRC. Nearly three-quarters (74.3%) of the respondents recalled reading or hearing information on CRC in the print or broadcast media. However, only 22.6% were advised by their physicians to undergo screening. Significantly more women than men had feared a positive diagnosis, held embarrassment, pain and risk concerns about colonoscopy and had friends and family members who encouraged screening. On multivariate analysis, screening uptake showed a positive association with worry about contracting CRC and a physician’s recommendation and a negative association with perceived pain about colonoscopy for both genders. For women only, screening was positively associated with having attended a public talk on CRC and having a family member with CRC, and was negatively associated with Malay race and perceived danger of colonoscopy.


CRC screening remains poor despite high levels of awareness of its benefits in this Asian population. Race, worry about contracting cancer, psychological barriers, and cues from the doctor and a public talk on CRC were associated with screening with gender specific differences. Strategies to increase CRC screening uptake should consider gender specific approaches to address psychological barriers and increase disease susceptibility through public health education and active promotion by physicians.

Colorectal cancer; Screening; Health belief model; Gender differences