Background: Studies have shown that follow-up care for cancer patients differs by physician specialty, and that coordination between specialists and generalists results in better care. Little is known, however, regarding which specialties of physicians provide care to long-term cancer survivors.
Methods: The authors used Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data from 1992 through 1997 that were linked to 1997-2003 Medicare data to identify persons diagnosed >5 years earlier with bladder, female breast, colorectal, prostate, or uterine cancer. Physician specialties were assigned by combining Medicare data with the American Medical Association Masterfile and the Unique Physician Identification Number Registry. The percentage of long-term survivors who visited physicians of interest was determined by analyzing Medicare outpatient claims submitted 6 to 12 years after initial diagnosis.
Results: Over the entire study period, 46% of female breast cancer survivors, 26% of colorectal cancer survivors, and 14% of prostate cancer survivors saw hematologists/oncologists. Radiation oncologists were seen by 11%, 2%, and 14% of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer survivors, respectively. Survivors also sought care from specialists related to their cancer: 19% of breast cancer survivors had a cancer-coded visit with a surgeon, 26% of colorectal cancer survivors visited a gastroenterologist, and 68% of prostate cancer survivors visited a urologist. The percentage of survivors who visited cancer and cancer-related physicians declined each year. In contrast, nearly 75% of female breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer survivors saw primary care providers, and these percentages did not decrease annually.
Conclusions: The findings of the current study underscore the need to include both primary care providers and cancer-related specialists in education and guidelines regarding cancer survivorship.