Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2009

Thesis Advisor(s)

Dean Cruess

Honors Major

Physiology and Neurobiology

Disciplines

Biological Psychology | Clinical Psychology | Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Physiology | Psychology

Abstract

As the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, colon cancer has a high cure rate if detected early by a colonoscopy (U.S.

Cancer Statistics Working Group, 2007). However, more than 41 million at-risk Americans are not properly receiving colonoscopy screenings according to the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control. This study provides insight into the physiological and psychological benefits of the colonoscopy procedure over and above cancer detection and prevention. Thirty-six patients receiving colonoscopic screening at the University of Connecticut Health Center participated in this study. A questionnaire battery that assessed perceived stress, depressive symptoms, colon cancer related worry, and social support, and optional saliva sampling was completed 2 weeks prior to and post colonoscopy. It was hypothesized that salivary cortisol concentrations, perceived stress, and self-reported depressive symptoms would show significant decreases from pre to post colonoscopy, and that these variables would all be positively correlated with one another. Results showed significant, positive correlations between depressive symptoms and both salivary cortisol (r (34)= .348, p< .05) and perceived stress (r (34)= .635, p< .01). Morning salivary cortisol levels decreased significantly from pre to post colonoscopy to levels below the population mean (t (16)=-3.711, p<. 01).

No such differences were observed in either perceived stress or depressive symptoms. These results indicate that by decreasing cortisol concentrations to levels below that of the population mean, the colonoscopy provided physiological health benefits to patients beyond cancer screening. From a health psychology standpoint, this may encourage some of the 41 million Americans not receiving proper colon cancer screenings to adopt this potentially life-saving health behavior.