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Open Access Research article

Assessing awareness of colorectal cancer symptoms and screening in a peripheral colorectal surgical unit: a survey based study

Terri P McVeigh*, Aoife J Lowery, Ronan M Waldron, Akhtar Mahmood and Kevin Barry

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery, Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, Mayo, Ireland

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BMC Surgery 2013, 13:20  doi:10.1186/1471-2482-13-20

Published: 22 June 2013



The National Screening Program for colorectal cancer is scheduled to commence in the near future. Previous studies on the topic of colorectal cancer and screening have highlighted paucity in public awareness of epidemiology, symptoms and signs of colorectal cancer. The aim of this study was to assess understanding of colorectal cancer and screening in a representative sample of the local catchment population of Mayo General Hospital.


A prospective cohort study was instituted utilising an anonymous survey, which was distributed at consecutive general surgical out-patient clinics over a one month period prior to initiation of the screening program. Data collected included demographics, presenting complaint type and duration, and general knowledge of colorectal cancer facts. Attitudes towards screening were also evaluated.


Eighty-eight of the one hundred and thirty six patients sampled were female (65%). Thirty-six per cent of the sample was within the screening target age-group (55–74), with mean age 53years (+/−18). Most respondents recognised bleeding per rectum as a possible symptom of colorectal cancer. A significant proportion, however, incorrectly selected less sinister symptoms as concerning, while only fifty per cent correctly cited weight loss. Family history was acknowledged as a risk factor by fifty-seven per cent with age and gender cited less often (29%, 4%), while forty-seven per cent incorrectly cited stress as a risk. Screening was defined as testing of symptomatic patients or those with a positive family history by eighty-one per cent of respondents, with only nineteen per cent associating screening with an asymptomatic cohort. Strikingly, twenty-five per cent of patients would decline screening.


There remains poverty of awareness regarding colorectal cancer. More public health initiatives are required to help improve understanding of the disease process, and to improve public compliance with the screening initiative.

Colorectal cancer; Screening; Colonoscopy