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Cancer screening attendance is boosted around Christmas

People are more likely to attend screening around Christmas and birthdays, says study

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Organisers of cancer screening programmes could increase attendance by inviting people for screening close to birthdays or other annual milestones such as Christmas and New Year, according to a study published on the website of the British Medical Journal.

Many Western countries promote screening programmes for colorectal cancer, which is the third most common cancer in the UK and second leading cause of cancer deaths in Europe and the US, but attendance is generally low.

Researchers from The Cancer Registry of Norway, examined whether tailoring the timing of colorectal cancer screening invitations to annual milestones such as birthdays, Christmas and the New Year, could improve attendance.

Previous studies have identified barriers to attendance including anxiety and lack of knowledge about the test’s risks and benefits, but whether or not age and the timing of invitations are motivating factors on attendance has never been tested.

Professor Geir Hoff and Michael Bretthauer of The Cancer Registry recruited 20,780 men and women aged 50–64 years from the population registry in Norway, and randomly assigned a screening appointment to them.

The attendance rates for each week and month of assigned appointments were compared to participants’ week/month of birthday. The overall attendance was 12,960 out of 20,003 (64.7%).

The researchers found that attendance rates were significantly higher in December compared to the rest of the year (72.3% versus 64.2%), and for individuals receiving their letter of invitation in the week of their birthday or assigned to screening 1–2 weeks after their birthday (67.9% versus 64.5%).

Age, being female, screening method, and geographical area of living were also predictors of attendance.

The authors suggest that inviting people to screening close to their birthdays and to December could improve attendance at screening programmes as well as its effectiveness for the prevention and early detection of disease.

“We suggest that screening programmes should consider the potential benefits of timing appointments for screening in the first or second weeks after birthdays and extending working hours in December,” says the report.

The authors also said the reasons for this were unclear, but they related to annual reminders of ageing triggered by annual milestones such as birthdays, Christmas and the New Year.

DOI:10.1136/bmj.a2794

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