Doctors Can Lead by Example in Colon Cancer Screening



Patients are more likely to choose colorectal cancer screening if their doctor has been screened already and discloses this information to them.

A doctor’s recommendation is compelling when it comes to preventive screenings like colorectal cancer screenings, especially when the physician leads by example. Screenings like colonoscopy exams are instrumental in helping people live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. Unfortunately, Americans are not getting all of the preventive care they should be receiving. Many Americans are not getting screened for colon cancer at the correct age or the proper interval, and some tests are inaccurate.

Colorectal cancer screenings performed at the correct age and frequency can reduce the risk of colon cancer death by up to fifty percent, according to data from the American Cancer Society. A new study published in Gastroenterology reports that doctors who follow through with their own colon cancer screenings are more likely to have patients who get screened.

When Physicians Get Screened, Patients Get Screened

Amit X. Garg, M.D., Ph.D., and fellow research colleagues at Western University in Canada wanted to find out whether there is a connection between colorectal cancer screening rates among physicians and their patients.

The researchers conducted a population-based study of patients in Ontario and found that the colonoscopy rate was 67.9 percent among physicians and 66.6 percent among patients. The research team found patients were more likely to comply with colonoscopy when their family doctors had themselves already had colonoscopy screenings.

The study suggests family doctors have significant influence in their patients’ decisions to get screened for colon cancer. If doctors disclose that they have already chosen colon cancer screening, their patients are likely to follow their example.

 “Conversely, many physicians report difficulty counseling patients about behaviors they do not practice themselves,” the researchers stated in their report. “Given the clear benefits of colorectal cancer screening, programs that promote greater screening in physicians warrant consideration.”

Why Are We Neglecting Preventive Care?

The Centers for Disease Control estimates one out of three American adults is not being properly screened for colon cancer. Why are adults omitting a life-saving preventive test? Some patients may not be getting a colorectal cancer screening because:

  • They do not carry health insurance
  • They have limited contact with their primary care physician or do not have a primary care physician
  • Their primary care physician did not tell them to get screened
  • They lack the proper information on how to get screened

Screenings like colonoscopy can spare patients the physical, emotional and financial strain of a chronic, life-threatening disease. Also, many screening colonoscopies and other methods of colon cancer screenings are free through private insurance and Medicare.

When to Schedule a Colonoscopy Exam

Due to the increased incidence of young-onset colon cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests all adults at average risk for colon cancer begin screening at age 45. However, many insurance providers will not begin paying for screening until age 50. Talk to your doctor about when he or she began screening, and ask when you should schedule your first colonoscopy.

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