• Breast cancer;
  • Cancer screening;
  • Cervical cancer;
  • Older women

PURPOSE: Lack of physician recommendation is a major predictor of underutilization of breast and cervical cancer screening. The authors conducted a comprehensive two-part study of Florida primary care providers to determine which providers were not screening their older patients and why. This article reports on the study's quantitative survey component.

DESCRIPTION OF STUDY: After an initial mailing of surveys to 2052 randomly sampled, licensed medical and osteopathic physicians, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives, a follow-up mailing and phone calls resulted in 496 usable surveys. Outcome variables were whether or not primary care providers performed screening tests for their asymptomatic, women patients older than 50 years of age. Predictor variables included: age, race, gender, training, specialty, practice size, and location of the providers, and the percentage of older patients that they served.

RESULTS: The best predictors of primary care providers not screening their asymptomatic women patients who were older than 50 years of age were providers also being older than 50, specializing in geriatrics or adult health, and working in a small or rural practice. An analysis of providers' responses to structured survey items related to their own and their patients' attitudes about screening indicated that providers often miss the opportunity to screen due to a combination of patient, provider, practice, and access barriers.

CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: The authors recommend that public health and primary care practitioners collaborate in developing strategies that address areas of potential change for overcoming these four barriers, while also considering the essential public health services of assessment, policy development, and assurance. These strategies should be designed to facilitate the breast and cervical cancer screening process for both providers and patients, so that providers feel more comfortable performing and recommending these important tests, particularly for underserved groups of older women.