If you're 50 or older, seeing your doctor every year or two for a checkup may be a good defense against cancer, according to a new study by researchers at UC Davis, the University of Washington, and Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.
The study, to appear in the March 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that regular preventive health exams increase the likelihood that older adults will get recommended cancer screenings.
"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," said lead author Joshua Fenton, assistant professor of family and community medicine at UC Davis.
"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 and his colleagues focused their study on patients ages 52 to 78 years old who were eligible for breast, colon or prostate cancer screening in 2002 and 2003 through Group Health Cooperative. Group Health is a large, prepaid group health plan in Seattle. The researchers then sorted the patients into two groups: those who had a preventive health exam or general physical during the two-year period and those who didn't. Finally, the researchers compared cancer screening rates between the two groups.
The study included 64,288 patients. About half had a preventive health exam during the two-year period, and half didn't. (Group Health recommends patients get an exam every two years, but doesn't send reminders).
A clear screening gap emerged: Patients who had a general checkup were more than three times as likely as those who didn't to get some type of colon cancer screening. Colon screenings included fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and barium enema.