Dr. Steven Bier on Primary Care Physicians Eager to Screen for Colon Cancer

Dr. Steven Bier has over 25 years of experience as a radiologist. Dr. Bier currently serves on the staff of the Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey.

According to a recent article in Health Imaging magazine, many primary care physicians recommend colonoscopies for their patients, even in cases where the procedure will not achieve any lasting benefit. A group of researchers from the Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis conducted a survey of primary care physicians, including family practice doctors, internists, and gynecologists. The study found that most physicians recommend regular colon cancer screenings, usually colonoscopies, for patients between the ages of 50 and 65.

However, a high percentage of the surveyed physicians also recommended colonoscopies to patients with terminal cancer, specifically unresectable non-small cell lung cancer. Forty-two percent of physicians recommended a colonoscopy for a 50-year-old patient with terminal lung cancer, and 25 percent recommended the screening for an 80-year-old with terminal cancer. This propensity to screen betrays a lack of understanding of the risks and benefits of colonoscopies. In the case of a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer, a colonoscopy is unlikely to prolong or improve the quality of life. In fact, in those situations the colonoscopy and the preparation for the test might actually harm a patient’s health. The researchers suggested more research should be conducted on primary care physicians’ tendency to overscreen in situations where there is no benefit to the patient.