The role of need for control and self-reliance in gender and age differences in bowel cancer screening participation

Research Snapshots of Health Systems and Behavioural Research

What is known?

When bowel cancer is detected via the Australian National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) it can be diagnosed and treated early. This means the cancer is 50% less likely to be fatal, compared to when it is diagnosed outside of the program.

Unfortunately, only 44% of NBCSP recipients participate in the program by completing and returning their home bowel cancer screening kit. This participation rate is lower among men (41%) and men and women aged 50 – 60 years of age (36%). This is particularly concerning given that males have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.

Much research has gone into understanding the barriers that prevent people from participating in bowel cancer screening, yet little is known about the reasons for gender and age differences in screening rates.

What is new?

We examined the role of a stereotypically masculine trait called ‘a need for control and self-reliance’. People who are high in this trait tend to avoid seeking help in an effort to feel in control of their own health and health-related decisions.

Our findings suggest that both male and female adults reported similar levels of this trait. However, males and people over 60 years of age with a high need for control and self-reliance, reported higher levels of barriers to bowel cancer screening, compared to females and those under 60 years of age.

What does this mean?

The findings highlight the importance of intervention messaging that promotes being in control of one’s health and health-related decisions. This messaging may be particularly useful for lifting bowel cancer screening rates in males and older adults. Further research is needed to address low bowel cancer screening participation rates in specific demographics groups such as males and people under 60 years of age.

Contact: Belinda Goodwin

Reference: Goodwin BC, Myers L, McKenna KN, Anderson LE, Ireland MJ. The role of need for control and self-reliance in gender and age differences in bowel cancer screening participation. Psycho-Oncology. 2022. doi: 10.1002/pon.5979.

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