Primary Care Visits and Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer screenings are largely underutilized.

An association was found between individuals who had more primary care visits and the increase in colon cancer screenings and follow-up colonoscopies in a recent study.

Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Despite these statistics, colon cancer screenings are still largely underutilized.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine involved 968,072 patients from 4 different health care systems in the US Population-Based Research Optimizing Screening through Personalized Regimens (PROSPR) consortium. The patients ranged from 50- to 74-years-old and were not up-to-date with colorectal cancer (CRC) screening.

The results of the study showed that patients who saw their primary care providers an average of 1 or more times a year were twice as likely to undergo a CRC screening. Of these patients, 30% were more likely to have a colonoscopy after receiving a positive stool blood test.

“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 researcher Ethan Halm. “This result is important because screening for colon cancer can result in an early diagnosis and improved survival.”

The findings remained, even in mature, integrated health systems with well-insured patients that conduct significant aggressive population health outreach, which involves mailing patients a home stool blood test kid.

Despite decades of public reporting on screening rates, public health campaigns, and preventive service reminders in electronic health records, colon cancer screening rates remain low. In response, an increasing number of private and public health systems are starting to promote options that don’t require a face-to-face primary care visit.

National guidelines recommend periodic colorectal screening from colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal immunochemical tests (FIT), or high-sensitivity guaiac occult blood tests (FOBT).