NIH News Release
National Cancer Institute

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Contact: NCI Press Office
(301) 496-6641

New Study Will Assess Colorectal Cancer Screening Practices

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced today that it has launched a study to understand how screening for colorectal cancer is being conducted in the United States and to help identify barriers to screening for this common disease and appropriate follow-up.

Investigators from NCI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Care Financing Administration are collaborating to gather for the first time national data on colorectal screening practices.

The study is designed to obtain nationally representative data on the physician and health system factors that may affect use of screening and diagnostic follow-up related to early detection of colorectal cancer in community practice. It will assess physicians' knowledge, attitudes, and practice patterns, as well as health plan guidelines for providing or promoting colorectal screening. Data collection will be carried out by Abt Associates, Inc., an independent research organization located in Chicago.

"These data are crucial to learning how we may improve standard practice with regard to screening and diagnosis for colorectal cancer," said Carrie Klabunde, Ph.D., an NCI health services researcher. Key areas of NCI's research portfolio include screening, detection, and diagnosis, particularly for cancers of high incidence and mortality.

Study participants will be primary care physicians who are likely to administer colorectal cancer screening tests to adult patients or refer patients to specialists for such tests; specialty physicians who are likely to conduct colorectal screening as well as diagnostic follow-up and surveillance procedures for suspected colorectal cancer; and health plan medical directors. The survey process will begin in September 1999.

NCI will request data via a questionnaire, to which participants can respond by mail, telephone, fax or Internet. A nationally representative sample of 1,389 primary care physicians, 1,042 physician specialists, and 323 health plan medical directors will participate.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Evidence shows that a reduction in mortality can be achieved through screening for and treatment of the cancer in its earliest stages. However, screening rates for colorectal cancer remain low.

"Early detection through more consistent screening practices and effective treatment can help decrease mortality from this disease," said Brenda Edwards, Ph.D., associate director of NCI's Cancer Surveillance Research Program.

A number of expert groups, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society, American College of Gastroenterology, and Oncology Nursing Society recommend screening for the early detection of colorectal cancer in men and women over age 49. Early detection can be accomplished by fecal occult blood testing, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or double contrast barium enema. Congress has mandated that screening tests be covered benefits under the Medicare program.

For more information about cancer visit NCI's Web site for patients, public, and the mass media at To find out more about this survey, visit NCI's Applied Research Branch Web site at