Primary Care Doctor Visits Save Lives

Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality lower in elderly individuals who visit primary care doctors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Research has shown that screening cuts the incidence of colorectal cancer. And folks who visit their doctors regularly are more likely to learn about and be referred for colorectal cancer screening. Do these two facts save lives?

A new study has found that elderly individuals who visited their primary care physicians regularly tended to live longer.

These visits lowered the incidence of colorectal cancer, deaths caused by colorectal cancer and all causes of death, according to study results.

"Visit your primary care physician to monitor your physical health."

Jeanne M. Ferrante, MD, MPH, a physician in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Somerset, New Jersey, and colleagues conducted this study to examine the association between primary care visits and colorectal cancer incidence, mortality (death) and all-cause mortality.

Nearly 143,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and almost 51,000 will die from the disease.

The authors noted in the study introduction that only 59 percent of adults over the age of 50 have ever been screened for colorectal cancer. That’s why 39 percent of cases are diagnosed at the earliest and most treatable stages.

In this population study, the researchers reviewed records for 102,907 patients aged 67 to 85 years who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1994 and 2004 in US Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) regions.

The study also looked at the data on 27,081 individuals who died from colorectal cancer and 62,082 people who died from any cause.

The researchers identified and matched this data with that of control patients — 102,902 people who developed colorectal cancer, 27,080 who died of the cancer and 60,535 individuals who died from all causes during this period.

The average age of individuals in the study was 76.3 years.

The investigators measured the number of primary care visits in the four- to 27-month period before colorectal cancer diagnosis, incidence and death and all-cause mortality.

In a nutshell, patients who visited their primary care physicians more regularly had lower colorectal cancer incidence and mortality and death from any cause.

Compared to individuals who had zero or one primary care visits, those who had five to 10 visits had:

  • 6 percent lower odds of developing colorectal cancer.
  • 22 percent lower risks of dying from colorectal cancer.
  • 21 percent lower all-cause mortality.

These findings show that “...primary care helps decrease colorectal cancer by promoting screening and facilitating referrals for colonoscopy and polypectomy [removal of precancerous polyps],” the authors wrote.

“Because a recommendation from primary care is one of the strongest predictors of adherence to colorectal cancer screening and several different options are available for colorectal cancer screening, access to primary care is important for counseling on these options,” the authors concluded.

This study, which was funded by the American Cancer Society, was published September 30 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Review Date: 
September 30, 2013
Last Updated:
October 1, 2013