Physician decision making for colorectal cancer screening in the elderly

J Gen Intern Med. 2013 Sep;28(9):1202-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-013-2393-5. Epub 2013 Mar 29.


Background: Although individualized decision making is recommended to appropriately screen for colorectal cancer (CRC) in older adults, it is unclear whether physicians solicit input from older patients before making a recommendation for or against CRC screening.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine whether physicians elect to engage older patients in individualized decision making for CRC screening.

Design and participants: We surveyed a random sample of 650 US primary care physicians by mail. Physicians responded to questions about three clinical vignettes involving 80-year-old female patients in good, fair, and poor health. We examined whether physicians reported that they would initiate a discussion with the patients about CRC screening and whether they would make a recommendation about screening or seek patient input first.

Results: A total of 276 eligible physicians responded (52 % corrected response rate). Whether physicians indicated they would initiate a discussion about CRC screening varied by vignette: 91 % of physicians indicated they would do so for the patient in good health and 66 % and 44 % for the patients in fair and poor health, respectively (p<0.0001). The proportion of physicians that would seek patient input for their screening recommendation also varied by vignette (45 % for good, 49 % for fair, and 26 % for poor).

Conclusion: We found that physicians often individualize their CRC screening recommendations for older women by electing to engage patients in discussions and seeking their input before making a CRC recommendation. Physicians were more likely to elect to engage the patients represented by the good and fair health vignette, where the potential benefits likely outweigh the potential harms, than the patient in poor health, where the potential harms likely outweigh the potential benefits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Decision Making*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / adverse effects
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology*
  • Primary Health Care
  • United States