Objective: To assess factors related to consensus among community physicians regarding appropriate screening intervals for eight cancer screening procedures for which guidelines have been published.
Design: Interviews were conducted with a national random sample of 3436 physicians in family practice, internal medicine, general surgery, and gynecology by mail or telephone or both. The overall response rate was 67%.
Measurements: Consensus by specialization and by physician and practice characteristics on the appropriate screening intervals for early detection of cancers of the breast, cervix, colon and rectum, and lung for asymptomatic adults at normal risk.
Results: More than 60% of the physicians surveyed agreed on the length of the screening intervals for six of eight procedures. Consensus most closely followed American Cancer Society- and National Cancer Institute-recommended screening intervals for all procedures except chest roentgenogram. Acceptance of screening intervals was not related to the extent of agreement among published guidelines. Surgeons tended to favor more aggressive screening than family physicians and internists; gynecologists most consistently favored aggressive screening for cancers occurring in women. Older physicians and those in solo practice tended to favor outmoded procedures such as routine chest roentgenograms and to be more conservative about screening intervals.
Conclusions: Physicians stated that they follow the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute guidelines for cancer screening more than the guidelines published by their own specialty societies, but they also reported procedures not recommended in any guidelines. These findings suggest that changing physician screening practices will be difficult.