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Br J Gen Pract. 2009 Jul;59(564):e234-47. doi: 10.3399/bjgp09X453567.

Follow-up of cancer in primary care versus secondary care: systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Primary Care and Public Health, North Wales Clinical School, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Wrexham. lewisr17@cf.ac.uk



Cancer follow-up has traditionally been undertaken in secondary care, but there are increasing calls to deliver it in primary care.


To compare the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of primary versus secondary care follow-up of cancer patients, determine the effectiveness of the integration of primary care in routine hospital follow-up, and evaluate the impact of patient-initiated follow-up on primary care.


Systematic review.


Primary and secondary care settings.


A search was carried out of 19 electronic databases, online trial registries, conference proceedings, and bibliographies of included studies. The review included comparative studies or economic evaluations of primary versus secondary care follow-up, hospital follow-up with formal primary care involvement versus conventional hospital follow-up, and hospital follow-up versus patient-initiated or minimal follow-up if the study reported the impact on primary care.


There was no statistically significant difference for patient wellbeing, recurrence rate, survival, recurrence-related serious clinical events, diagnostic delay, or patient satisfaction. GP-led breast cancer follow-up was cheaper than hospital follow-up. Intensified primary health care resulted in increased home-care nurse contact, and improved discharge summary led to increased GP contact. Evaluation of patient-initiated or minimal follow-up found no statistically significant impact on the number of GP consultations or cancer-related referrals.


Weak evidence suggests that breast cancer follow-up in primary care is effective. Interventions improving communication between primary and secondary care could lead to greater GP involvement. Discontinuation of formal follow-up may not increase GP workload. However, the quality of the data in general was poor, and no firm conclusions can be reached.

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