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Abnormal Result on a Cancer Screen? Your Family Doctor Could Be Key to Follow-Up
  • Posted October 13, 2023

Abnormal Result on a Cancer Screen? Your Family Doctor Could Be Key to Follow-Up

Extra efforts by primary care doctors to reach out to patients who need follow-up after an abnormal cancer test result leads to better results in getting that care, a new clinical trial shows.

The trial involved nearly 12,000 patients who were receiving care at 44 primary care practices. They had overdue abnormal breast, cervical, colon or lung cancer screening results.

To study this, the practices and their patients were randomly assigned among four different groups.

One group received the usual care. A second got an automated reminder in their electronic health records (EHRs). A third received the reminder and outreach in the form of a patient letter followed by a phone call. The fourth group got everything that the second and third groups received, as well as a follow-up call by a patient navigator.

Those in groups three and four were more likely than those in groups one and two to receive recommended follow-up care related to their abnormal test results within 120 days.

About 22.9% of group one and 22.7% of group two had that follow-up. Those numbers were 31% and 31.4% in groups three and four, respectively.

“To maximize the benefit of cancer screening in eligible patients within health care organizations, systems that include EHR reminders and patient outreach efforts are needed to ensure the timely follow-up of overdue abnormal breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer test results,” said lead author Dr. Steven Atlas, a physician in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The study also saw similar trends for follow-up within 240 days and by cancer type and level of risk associated with their screening results.

These types of interventions may improve patient outcomes through earlier diagnosis and treatment, the researchers said.

“We believe that such systems are best based in primary care because primary care clinicians take a 'whole person' approach and are responsible for a wide range of preventive health efforts, including cancer screening and follow-up of test results,” Atlas said in a hospital news release.

Atlas added that despite the success of the interventions, large gaps remain. These need to be addressed to gain the full benefits of preventive cancer screening.

The study, published Oct. 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was supported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer screening.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Oct. 10, 2023

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