A health action process approach for developing invitee endorsed interventions to increase mail-out bowel cancer screening

Research Snapshots of Health Systems and Behavioural Research

What is known?

The Australian National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) provides free bowel cancer screening kits to Australians aged between 50-74, once every two years.

The screening kits are designed to detect early signs of bowel cancer. Therefore, if cancer is detected, it provides the person with the greatest chance of survival.

However, participation in this program remains low; 56.5% of recipients did not complete the screening kit in 2021.

Behaviour change experts suggest that healthy behaviours, such as cancer screening, are more likely to occur when people are motivated and have a plan to do the screening.

This study aimed to better understand factors that may influences people’s motivation to participate in the bowel cancer screening program and how much planning plays an important role. We also asked participants to identify the public health initiatives they believed would help them to complete their screening kit.

What is new?

This study found the following factors lead to high levels of motivation around completing the screening kit:

  • A belief in the health benefits of bowel cancer screening.
  • Perceived ease of the screening process.
  • No real concerns about the collection process.

Interestingly, beliefs about the dangers of bowel cancer did not appear to influence their motivation. Importantly, those who were highly motivated to screen for bowel cancer did not always complete and return their kit. But if they had a plan for when they were going to complete the test, they were more likely remember and not procrastinate.

Public health initiatives that included clear picture-based instructions, provided alternatives to storing the stool samples in the fridge, and text messaging reminders, all rated highly amongst participants.

What does this mean?

To improve future participation rate (and help save more lives), we can use this knowledge about health behaviour to motivate and influence people to complete their national bowel cancer screening program.

Health initiatives to increase recipients’ motivation to complete their screening kits should aim to:

  • Promote the importance of bowel cancer screening.
  • Promote the ease of completing the screening kit.
  • Send out regular prompts, messages, and reminders and encourage planning to complete and return the kit.

Reference: Myers L, Goodwin B, Ralph , March, S. A health action process approach for developing invitee endorsed interventions to increase mail-out bowel cancer screening. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 2022. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12346

Contact: Larry Myers

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