Differences between primary care physicians' and oncologists' knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding the care of cancer survivors

Arnold L. Potosky, Paul K.J. Han, Julia Rowland, Carrie N. Klabunde, Tenbroeck Smith, Noreen Aziz, Craig Earle, John Z. Ayanian, Patricia A. Ganz, Michael Stefanek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Background: The growing number of cancer survivors combined with a looming shortage of oncology specialists will require greater coordination of post-treatment care responsibilities between oncologists and primary care physicians (PCPs). However, data are limited regarding these physicians' views of cancer survivors' care. Objective: To compare PCPs and oncologists with regard to their knowledge, attitudes, and practices for follow-up care of breast and colon cancer survivors. Design and Subjects: Mailed questionnaires were completed by a nationally representative sample of 1,072 PCPs and 1,130 medical oncologists in 2009 (cooperation rate=65%). Sampling and non-response weights were used to calculate estimates to reflect practicing US PCPs and oncologists. Main Measures: PCPs and oncologists reported their 1) preferred model for delivering cancer survivors' care; 2) assessment of PCPs' ability to perform follow-up care tasks; 3) confidence in their knowledge; and 4) cancer surveillance practices. Key Results: Compared with PCPs, oncologists were less likely to believe PCPs had the skills to conduct appropriate testing for breast cancer recurrence (59% vs. 23%, P<0.001) or to care for late effects of breast cancer (75% vs. 38%, P<0.001). Only 40% of PCPs were very confident of their own knowledge of testing for recurrence. PCPs were more likely than oncologists to endorse routine use of non-recommended blood and imaging tests for detecting cancer recurrence, with both groups departing substantially from guideline recommendations. Conclusion: There are significant differences in PCPs' and oncologists' knowledge, attitudes, and practices with respect to care of cancer survivors. Improving cancer survivors' care may require more effective communication between these two groups to increase PCPs' confidence in their knowledge, and must also address oncologists' attitudes regarding PCPs' ability to care for cancer survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1403-1410
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer care
  • cancer survivorship
  • physician attitudes
  • physician survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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