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Intervention to increase colorectal cancer screening among emergency department patients: results from a randomised pilot study


Background Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Emergency departments (ED) represent a promising setting to address preventive health measures like CRC screening.

Objectives The current study adapted an existing cervical cancer screening intervention for use in catalysing CRC screening. We evaluated feasibility of identification, provided preliminary effect size estimates and documented participant acceptability.

Methods This study was funded by the University of Rochester ( # NCT05004376). We enrolled ED patients, 45–75 years old, in the Greater Rochester, NY region into a randomised controlled pilot from January to May 2022. Patients were excluded if non-English speaking, lacking a cell phone or had a history of CRC, colorectal resection, inflammatory bowel disease or abdominal radiation. Participants were surveyed to determine adherence with recommended CRC screening guidelines. Patients found non-adherent were randomised to receive (1) recommendation for CRC screening only or (2) recommendation and a text-based intervention aimed at generating intention and motivation to get screened. Patients were blind to allocation at enrolment. The primary outcome was patient CRC screening or scheduling.

Results 1438 patients were approached, with 609 found ineligible, 576 declining participation and 253 enrolled. A randomised sample of 114 non-adherent patients were split evenly between the control and intervention arms. Among participants with follow-up data (n control=38, n intervention=36), intervention participants had a 2%–3% higher rate of scheduling or receiving screening (7%–27% relative improvement). When using the complete sample (n=114) and conservatively assuming no screening for those lost to follow-up, differences in screening across arms were mildly decreased (0%–2% absolute difference). Acceptability of CRC intervention was high, and participants offered formative feedback.

Conclusion The piloted text message intervention through the ED shows potential promise for catalysing CRC screening. Subsequent replication in a fully powered trial is needed.

  • Feasibility Studies
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Medical Oncology
  • primary health care

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Data are available upon reasonable request to the corresponding author.

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