Prevalence of the use of cancer related self-tests by members of the public: a community survey

Sue Wilson, Sheila Greenfield, H Pattison, Angela Ryan, Richard McManus, David Fitzmaurice, J Marriott, C Chapman, Susan Clifford

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Background: Self-tests are those where an individual can obtain a result without recourse to a health professional, by getting a result immediately or by sending a sample to a laboratory that returns the result directly. Self-tests can be diagnostic, for disease monitoring, or both. There are currently tests for more than 20 different conditions available to the UK public, and self-testing is marketed as a way of alerting people to serious health problems so they can seek medical help. Almost nothing is known about the extent to which people self-test for cancer or why they do this. Self-tests for cancer could alter perceptions of risk and health behaviour, cause psychological morbidity and have a significant impact on the demand for healthcare. This study aims to gain an understanding of the frequency of self-testing for cancer and characteristics of users. Methods: Cross-sectional survey. Adults registered in participating general practices in the West Midlands Region, will be asked to complete a questionnaire that will collect socio-demographic information and basic data regarding previous and potential future use of self-test kits. The only exclusions will be people who the GP feels it would be inappropriate to send a questionnaire, for example because they are unable to give informed consent. Freepost envelopes will be included and non-responders will receive one reminder. Standardised prevalence rates will be estimated. Discussion: Cancer related self-tests, currently available from pharmacies or over the Internet, include faecal occult blood tests ( related to bowel cancer), prostate specific antigen tests ( related to prostate cancer), breast cancer kits ( self examination guide) and haematuria tests ( related to urinary tract cancers). The effect of an increase in self-testing for cancer is unknown but may be considerable: it may affect the delivery of population based screening programmes; empower patients or cause unnecessary anxiety; reduce costs on existing healthcare services or increase demand to investigate patients with positive test results. It is important that more is known about the characteristics of those who are using self-tests if we are to determine the potential impact on health services and the public.
Original languageEnglish
Article number215
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2006


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