THURSDAY March 29, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- For people age 50 and older, getting a checkup every year or two may improve the likelihood they'll get the cancer screenings experts recommend, a U.S. study finds.
"Because people go to the doctor anyway when they feel sick or have a medical problem, some authorities have questioned whether preventive, or general, health examinations are worth the extra time and effort," study lead author Joshua Fenton, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, Davis, said in a prepared statement.
"Our study suggests they are. If people over 50 have checkups every year or two, they're more likely to go ahead and get the cancer screenings they need," Fenton said.
The two-year study, published in the March 26 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, included over 64,000 patients, ages 52 to 78, who were eligible for breast, colon or prostate cancer screenings. Patients who had a regular checkup during that time were more than three times as likely to get a colon or prostate cancer screening than those who didn't have a checkup. Women who had a checkup were also more likely to be screened for breast cancer.
This difference in screening rates persisted, regardless of how many "illness" visits patients made to doctors during the study. This suggests that doctors may not have time to promote cancer screening when they're assessing a sick patient.
Fenton noted that a recent survey found that 97 percent of primary care doctors said they recommend appropriate cancer screening tests to patients during checkups, but few doctors discuss cancer screening during other types of patient visits.
"The preventive health exam may be an auspicious time to promote cancer screening. These visits may afford primary care physicians the opportunity to discuss and recommend cancer screening when indicated, and physicians' recommendations have been consistently associated with timely cancer screening," Fenton said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer screening.