• colon cancer;
  • screening;
  • patient preferences;
  • shared decision making

OBJECTIVE: To measure patient preferences for four different screening strategies: annual fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) alone; flexible sigmoidoscopy (FSIG) every 5 years alone; both annual FOBT and FSIG every 5 years; or no screening.

DESIGN: Survey.

SETTING: University internal medicine clinic.

PATIENTS: Convenience sample of 146 adults (aged 50–75 years) with no previous history of colon cancer.

INTERVENTION: Three-part educational program on colon cancer screening administered verbally by trained research assistants.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Patient preferences for screening were measured at three points: after descriptive information about colon cancer and screening options (testing procedure information); after information about test performance but with no out-of-pocket costs (test performance information); and finally with hypothetical out-of-pocket costs (cost information). After only descriptive test information, the most popular strategies were FOBT alone (45%) or both tests (38%). Fewer patients preferred FSIG alone (13%). After information about test performance, more subjects preferred both tests (47%), and fewer subjects preferred FOBT alone (36%) (p= .12). With hypothetical out-of-pocket costs, the proportion preferring FOBT alone increased to 53%, while those preferring both tests decreased to 31% (p < .001). Less than 5% of patients preferred no screening.

CONCLUSIONS: Patient preferences for colon cancer screening were modestly sensitive to information about test performance and strongly sensitive to out-of-pocket costs. The heterogeneity of patients' preferences for how to be screened supports informed shared decision making as a possible means of improving colon cancer screening.