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BMC Public Health. 2013 May 24;13:500. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-500.

Gender differences in attitudes impeding colorectal cancer screening.

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



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.


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.


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').


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).

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