Family history and colorectal cancer screening: a survey of physician knowledge and practice patterns

Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Apr;97(4):1031-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2002.05624.x.


Objectives: Risk stratification is essential to effective implementation of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening strategies. The objectives of this study were to assess and compare the current knowledge and practice patterns of gastroenterologists and primary care physicians regarding familial risk of CRC.

Methods: We conducted a survey of regional gastroenterologists and a sample of university- and community-based primary care physicians. The survey instrument assessed physician knowledge of screening recommendations and current practices for individuals with family histories of CRC, adenomatous polyps (APs), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and hereditary nonpolyposis cancer (HNPCC). The instrument also elicited data about familial risk assessment, documentation, and notification of at-risk family members.

Results: Thirty-five gastroenterologists (65%) and 58 primary care physicians (92%) completed the survey. Most gastroenterologists and primary care physicians (85% vs 72%) chose age 40 as the appropriate age to begin screening for a family history of CRC, but relatively few (37% vs 36%) recommended screening at age 40 for a family history of APs. Gastroenterologists were significantly more likely to recommend screening for FAP at puberty (80% vs 27%, p < 0.001) and for HNPCC at age 25 (73% vs 50%, p = 0.04). Colonoscopy was the preferred screening strategy by both groups for family histories of CRC (97%), HNPCC (97%), and APs (77%); primary care physicians also preferred colonoscopy for family histories of CRC (72%) and HNPCC (76%) but flexible sigmoidoscopy plus fecal occult blood testing for a family history of APs (38%). Gastroenterologists were more likely to recommend genetic testing for persons at risk of FAP (91% vs 71%, p = 0.03) and HNPCC (72% vs 57%, p = 0.18), routinely inquire about a family history of CRC or APs (93% vs 63%, p < 0.001), and recommend notification of at-risk first-degree relatives with family histories of CRC (94% vs 55%, p < 0.001) or AP (53% v.s 6%, p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Although gastroenterologists are more likely than primary care physicians to elicit a family history of colorectal neoplasia and implement appropriate screening strategies, overall compliance with recommended guidelines and notification of at-risk relatives are suboptimal. Novel approaches for improving awareness of the available screening guidelines are needed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Gastroenterology / statistics & numerical data*
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*