Cancer screening of older women : a primary care issue

Cancer Pract. Jul-Aug 1998;6(4):217-22. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-5394.1998.006004217.x.


Purpose: The purpose of this retrospective chart review was to examine whether family practice physicians and residents were screening older women for breast, gynecologic, and colorectal cancers as recommended by the American Cancer Society, the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, and Healthy People 2000.

Methods: A retrospective chart review of women 60 years and older who were seen at least twice between July 1, 1992, and June 30, 1993, in a midwestern family practice residency program was completed. From the original sample of 660 potential subjects, a systematic random selection of every third chart was identified for review, resulting in a sample of 201. Analysis of the data was performed by descriptive statistics and chi-square tests. A series of multiple regression models using age, number of visits, type and gender of provider, and personal or family history of cancer as predictor variables was performed.

Results: Breast cancer screening was offered to approximately 70% of the sample, with only about one third of the older women receiving mammography or clinical breast examination. Recommendations for gynecologic cancer screening were given to 63% of the sample, with less than one third receiving Papanicolaou smears. Recommendations for digital rectal examination, fecal occult blood test, and flexible sigmoidoscopy were 58%, 59%, and 30%, respectively. The percentages of patients who actually received these tests were considerably lower.

Clinical implications: Barriers for appropriate cancer screening for older women exist for both the provider and the patient; however, many of these obstacles can be overcome. Improving the resident's exposure to the current recommendations, increasing geriatric content in the training program, and initiating a reminder system may reduce some of the provider barriers. The use of midlevel providers may increase the preventive services offered to older women as well as educate and empower these women to become responsible for their own healthcare. Together, physicians and midlevel providers can become patient advocates through political activism, encouraging legislation that guarantees payment for cancer screening tests. Finally, primary care providers can become actively engaged in research that explores the healthcare concerns of older women.

MeSH terms

  • Aged*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Family Practice / education
  • Family Practice / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / standards
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / methods*
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Women's Health*