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Open Access Research article

Attitudes to colorectal cancer screening among ethnic minority groups in the UK

Kathryn A Robb1*, Ijeoma Solarin1, Emily Power1, Wendy Atkin2 and Jane Wardle1

  • * Corresponding author: Kathryn A Robb

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK

2 Cancer Research UK Colorectal Cancer Unit, St. Mark's Hospital, NW London Hospitals Trust, Northwick Park, Watford Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 3UJ, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:34  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-34

Published: 25 January 2008



Colorectal screening by Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (FS) is under evaluation in the UK. Evidence from existing cancer screening programmes indicates lower participation among minority ethnic groups than the white-British population. To ensure equality of access, it is important to understand attitudes towards screening in all ethnic groups so that barriers to screening acceptance can be addressed.


Open- and closed-ended questions on knowledge about colorectal cancer and attitudes to FS screening were added to Ethnibus™ – a monthly, nationwide survey of the main ethnic minority communities living in the UK (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, African, and Chinese). Interviews (n = 875) were conducted, face-to-face, by multilingual field-workers, including 125 interviews with white-British adults.


All respondents showed a notable lack of knowledge about causes of colorectal cancer, which was more pronounced in ethnic minority than white-British adults. Interest in FS screening was uniformly high (>60%), with more than 90% of those interested saying it would provide 'peace of mind'. The most frequently cited barrier to screening 'in your community' was embarrassment, particularly among ethnic minority groups.


Educational materials should recognise that non-white groups may be less knowledgeable about colorectal cancer. The findings of the current study suggest that embarrassment may be a greater deterrent to participation to FS screening among ethnic minority groups, but this result requires exploration in further research.