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J Gen Intern Med. 2010 Jul;25(7):688-93. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1318-9. Epub 2010 Mar 23.

What is most important to patients when deciding about colorectal screening?

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Clinical Epidemiology Research Center, VA CT Healthcare System, West Haven, CT, USA.



Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening can be administered through tests with varied characteristics and is a preference-sensitive decision.


To assess patient experiences with a Maximum Differences Scaling (MDS) tool for eliciting values about CRC screening test characteristics and determine whether patients vary in how they prioritize test characteristics and whether this variation relates to test preferences.


MDS survey to elicit patients' values for characteristics related to fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, CT colonography and colon capsule endoscopy.


92 patients enrolled in primary care clinics at a VA hospital and associated university.


Patients reported that the tool was easy to use (95%). On completion 62% would choose colonoscopy, 23% colon capsule endoscopy and 10% CT colonography. Of the attributes evaluated, patients valued sensitivity, risk of tear and need for a second test most. Sensitivity was more important to those choosing colonoscopy than those choosing other tests (median importance = 21.5 versus 19.6, p < 0.01). Concern with complications and sedation was positively associated with age (p < 0.001 and p < 0.001), whereas concern with colon preparation and missing work was negatively associated with age (p < 0.009 and p < 0.03). Patients with fair or poor health status were less concerned with sensitivity than patients in good to excellent health (median importance = 19.3 versus 21.4, p < 0.008).


This pilot study suggests that patients vary in how they prioritize colorectal cancer screening test attributes; this variation is associated with test preferences, and this MDS tool is feasible to use and may help patients construct their preferences.

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