Cancer screening by primary care physicians. Can we explain the differences?

J Fam Pract. 1991 May;32(5):465-71.


Background: Physicians perform cancer screening tests less often than recommended.

Methods: Forty primary care physicians were surveyed to assess their knowledge, attitudes, and experiences regarding cancer and cancer screening, and patients' medical records were reviewed to measure physicians' screening rates.

Results: Over 80% of physicians believed doctors should urge screening. On average, 23% of their patient visits were scheduled primarily for preventive care interventions. Screening performance scores expressed the percentage of compliance with the American Cancer Society's recommendations and demonstrated the low levels of compliance for six out of seven tests; however, there was substantial variance in performance among physicians. The best predictors of screening performance were (1) the percentage of visits scheduled primarily for prevention (mammography, and pelvic and breast examinations [P less than .05]); and (2) the number of medical journals read regularly (stool occult blood test [P less than .01], sigmoidoscopy [P less than .01], and Papanicolaou smear [P less than .02]). Also, female physicians performed more Papanicolaou smears (P less than .05) and scheduled more visits for preventive care (P less than .001).

Conclusions: A small group of predictors explain large portions of the variance in cancer screening performance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • California
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Papanicolaou Test
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Preventive Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vaginal Smears / statistics & numerical data