The role of primary care in early detection and follow-up of cancer

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2014 Jan;11(1):38-48. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2013.212. Epub 2013 Nov 19.


Primary care providers have important roles across the cancer continuum, from encouraging screening and accurate diagnosis to providing care during and after treatment for both the cancer and any comorbid conditions. Evidence shows that higher cancer screening participation rates are associated with greater involvement of primary care. Primary care providers are pivotal in reducing diagnostic delay, particularly in health systems that have long waiting times for outpatient diagnostic services. However, so-called fast-track systems designed to speed up hospital referrals are weakened by significant variation in their use by general practitioners (GPs), and affect the associated conversion and detection rates. Several randomized controlled trials have shown primary care-led follow-up care to be equivalent to hospital-led care in terms of patient wellbeing, recurrence rates and survival, and might be less costly. For primary care-led follow-up to be successful, appropriate guidelines must be incorporated, clear communication must be provided and specialist care must be accessible if required. Finally, models of long-term cancer follow-up are needed that provide holistic care and incorporate management of co-morbid conditions. We discuss all these aspects of primary care, focusing on the most common cancers managed at the GP office-breast, colorectal, prostate, lung and cervical cancers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Practice / organization & administration*
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires