College of American Pathologists
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cap today

Study finds people let preventive tests slide

July 2004
Anthony Phipps

The CAP has launched a multimedia campaign to raise public understanding of the importance of preventive health screening.

The campaign is an offshoot of a Gallup survey sponsored by the College that found that while patients may know they need a particular health screening, that knowledge doesn’t always translate into action. The aim of the campaign is to raise the visibility of pathologists and highlight their concern for patients and the role they play in medical testing and patient care.

The study, developed by members of the CAP Public and Patient Relations Committee in conjunction with Gallup, looked at how patients act on their beliefs about cholesterol testing and cervical, breast, colon, and prostate cancer screening. Adults nationwide were polled about their perceptions of preventive health screenings, the frequency with which they get screened, and the depth of their knowledge about those tests.

The poll found that more than 90 percent of people age 50 and older know they need to be screened for colon cancer but only 54 percent report having been screened.

The same applies to prostate cancer screening. While 92 percent of men over age 50 know that prostate screening should start no later than age 50, over one-quarter (27 percent) of them have not been screened for prostate cancer.

Three-quarters of adults age 18 to 34 believe they should have their cholesterol checked at least once a year, but 40 percent of respondents in that same age group report having never had a cholesterol test.

Respondents said they don’t seek these tests primarily because they are too busy (14 percent of respondents), don’t have health insurance (11 percent), or feel healthy or are healthy (10 percent).

"We’ve got some work to do," said CAP spokesperson Paula Szypko, MD, in an interview featured in a nationally syndicated Health Day News article. "We need to not only educate our public about what needs to be done, but push them to go ahead and get screenings."

Part of the problem may also be that patients don’t always understand the procedures. For example, 48 percent of those surveyed about the proper frequency of colon cancer screening believe that a colonoscopy should be performed every year.

"I don’t know anyone who would want to undergo a yearly colonoscopy," said Dr. Szypko. "Believing that to be the proper testing frequency could only serve as a disincentive to be screened."

While 75 percent of adults surveyed believe they are at least somewhat informed about health screening guidelines, that doesn’t mean they know what screening tests they need. For example, six in every 10 adults agree either somewhat (44 percent) or strongly (17 percent) with the statement: "There are so many conflicting reports on the guidelines for screening tests that I’m not sure what regular screening tests I should have."

"Physicians, whether they are clinicians or laboratory practitioners, have an obligation to spread the word about the importance of health screenings," Dr. Szypko says. "It’s up to us to reach out to patients and help them make sense of all the information and messages they’re getting."

The CAP campaign kicked off with a national satellite media tour in New York City on March 18. Dr. Szypko and colorectal cancer survivor Bill McCloskey participated in 25 television and radio interviews from Boston to Seattle.

In each of the interviews, Dr. Szypko communicated pathologists’ concern about the survey results. She reported that pathologists regularly see cases of advanced disease in their practices that could have been prevented in many instances through early detection.

Other media outreach consists of television and radio interviews with members of the CAP spokes person network, letters to the editor written by CAP members that are being submitted to newspapers across the country, and news releases sent to national and local radio and television stations, newspapers, and magazines.

To help pathologists communicate the importance of preventive health screening, the CAP has posted a copy of the Gallup survey, and fact sheets and other patient-oriented information about preventive testing, on its Web site. Go to the Media Center in the Patients and Public section.

Contact Diane Simpson Bundy or Patti Flesher at the CAP for help in raising your or your practice’s visibility in your community. They can be reached at 800-323-4040 ext. 7538 or

Anthony Phipps is CAP manager of media and member relations.