Primary Care Visits Increase Colon Cancer Screenings, Study Says

There’s a bit of controversy among doctors and researchers over whether annual physicals are actually necessary for healthy patients, but new research has identified one distinct benefit of routine visits with a primary care physician: increased colon cancer screenings.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States. Current screening guidelines recommend that most individuals begin routine screening at the age of 50 and every 10 years thereafter. However, despite these recommendations, reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that only 65.1 percent of eligible individuals are current with colon cancer screenings.

To potentially increase screening rates, many health systems now offer mail-in testing options that do not require a face-to-face visit with a doctor. Fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) and fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) are now available in kits that patients can complete at home and mail in for results. However, if either of these tests produces a positive result, a follow-up colonoscopy is needed for further investigation.

Researchers examined nearly 1 million patient records in four different U.S. health care systems to determine whether primary care physicians played an active role in increasing colon cancer screening rates. All patients involved in this study were between the ages of 50 and 74 and were not current with colon cancer screenings. The researchers found that patients who maintained routine primary care visits were twice as likely to be screened for colon cancer and 30 percent more likely to have a follow-up colonoscopy after a positive result from a test kit (Source: ScienceDaily).

"These findings help underscore the continued importance and effectiveness of visits with primary care physicians in a brave new world of virtual care and population health outreach," said Dr. Ethan Halm, Director of UT Southwestern's Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research. "This result is important because screening for colon cancer can result in an early diagnosis and improved survival.”