Colorectal cancer screening by primary care physicians: recommendations and practices, 2006-2007

Am J Prev Med. 2009 Jul;37(1):8-16. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.03.008. Epub 2009 May 13.


Background: Primary care physicians (hereafter, physicians) play a critical role in the delivery of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening in the U.S. This study describes the CRC screening recommendations and practices of U.S. physicians and compares them to findings from a 1999-2000 national provider survey.

Methods: Data from 1266 physicians responding to the 2006-2007 National Survey of Primary Care Physicians' Recommendations and Practices for Breast, Cervical, Colorectal, and Lung Cancer Screening (cooperation rate=75%) were analyzed in 2008. Descriptive statistics were used to examine physicians' CRC screening recommendations and practices as well as the office systems used to support screening activities. Sample weights were applied in the analyses to obtain national estimates.

Results: Ninety-five percent of physicians routinely recommend screening colonoscopy to asymptomatic, average-risk patients; 80% recommend fecal occult blood testing (FOBT). Only a minority recommend sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, computed tomographic colonography, or fecal DNA testing. Fifty-six percent recommend two screening modalities; 17% recommend one. Nearly all physicians who recommend endoscopy refer their patients for the procedure. Four percent perform sigmoidoscopy, a 25-percentage-point decline from 1999-2000. Although 61% of physicians reported that their practice had guidelines for CRC screening, only 30% use provider reminders; 15% use patient reminders.

Conclusions: Physicians' CRC screening recommendations and practices have changed substantially since 1999-2000. Colonoscopy is now the most frequently recommended test. Most physicians do not recommend the full menu of test options prescribed in national guidelines. Few perform sigmoidoscopy. Office systems to support CRC screening are lacking in many physicians' practices. Given ongoing changes in CRC screening technologies and guidelines, the continued monitoring of physicians' CRC screening recommendations and practices is imperative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Role
  • Physicians, Family* / standards
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Primary Health Care / trends
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States