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J Gen Intern Med. 2009 Jul;24(7):816-21. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1006-9. Epub 2009 May 13.

Physicians' decisions about continuing or stopping colon cancer screening in the elderly: a qualitative study.

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  • 1Division of General Internal Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.



Experts suggest an individualized approach to colon cancer screening to take into account variation in older adults' life expectancies and potential to benefit from screening. However, little is known about how physicians make decisions about colon cancer screening in adults age 75 and older.


To understand whether physicians employ individualized decision making for colon cancer screening in older adults, and, if so, to determine the individual factors they believed were important to consider in making such decisions.


Qualitative research using focus groups and individual interviews


Fifteen primary care physicians practicing in community settings participated in three focus groups and two interviews.


We used two clinical vignettes of 78-year-old women in fair and poor health states to stimulate discussions about clinical decision making for CRC screening in older adults.


Physicians considered a wide range of factors, including clinical factors, such as age, life expectancy, co-morbidities, and functional status, as well as individual factors, such as personality, previous screening behavior, family support, and the relationship with the patient. Physicians reported difficulty with these decisions because of their complexity and because they involve life expectancy estimates. Their approach and discussion with patients seemed to be dependent on the degree of certainty they perceived regarding their clinical assessment as to whether the patient had the potential to benefit from screening.


Colorectal cancer screening decision making is complex. Physicians reported using a range of clinical and individual factors to decide about colorectal cancer screening in older adults.

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