OBJECTIVE: To raise compliance in a general practice based colorectal cancer screening programme by the use of a simple health educational leaflet. DESIGN: A randomised controlled trial of the leaflet's effect on completion of faecal occult blood tests. The leaflet explained the high frequency of colorectal cancer, the principles of screening, and addressed reasons for non-compliance. SETTING: The British town of Market Harborough where most of the population are registered with a single practice. PARTICIPANTS: These comprised 1571 residents aged 61 to 70 years registered with the practice. Residents were invited to receive a free faecal occult blood test in a colorectal cancer screening programme. Half the population were randomly assigned to receive the educational leaflet about screening. RESULTS: Compliance in test and control groups, positive rate of stool testing, and pathology detected were measured. Compliance was higher in men who received the leaflet in those aged 61 to 65 years (36% v 27%, chi2 = 4.0, p < 0.05) and in men aged 66 to 70 years (39% v 23%, chi2 = 9.7, p < 0.01). In women, use of the leaflet did not affect compliance in those aged either 61 to 65 years (38% v 36%, chi2 = 0.1, NS) or 66 to 70 years (31% v 31%, chi2 = 0.0, NS). The positive rate of stool testing in patients observing the required dietary restrictions was 1.6%. A significant lesion was detected in 1.4% of people tested (2 carcinomas and 5 patients with adenomatous polyps). CONCLUSIONS: Health education leaflets addressing reasons for non-compliance significantly increased compliance in men and should be used in screening programmes. Reasons for the lack of success of the leaflet in women should be investigated and other interventions for raising compliance should be developed.
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