According to results presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), only 11% of primary care physicians believe that patients with early-stage lung cancer can achieve benefit from treatment with chemotherapy. As a result, these patients may not receive adequate referrals to oncologists.

Many patients are initially diagnosed with cancer under the care of their primary care physician. It is then the responsibility of the primary care physician to treat the patient or refer them to an appropriate specialist. However, some primary care physicians may not be correctly referring all patients diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wisconsin, recently conducteda study that surveyed 1,132 primary care physicians in Wisconsin.

The survey included questions regarding the likeliness of referrals among patients with breast and lung cancer and the benefit of chemotherapy at different stages of these diseases. As well, questions were posed regarding a scenario featuring a 53-year old woman who was diagnosed with either stage 1b non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or 1b breast cancer. Approximately 60% (672) of the surveyed physicianscompleted and returned the surveys, which provided the following results:

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• 24% believed that patients with early breast cancer could benefit from chemotherapy.

• 11% believed that patients with early lung cancer could benefit from chemotherapy.

• 41% believed that patents with metastatic breast cancer could benefit from chemotherapy.

• 37% believed that patients with metastatic lung cancer could benefit from chemotherapy.

• Patients diagnosed with lung cancer were often referred for symptom control, not disease control.

The researchers concluded that a large portion of primary care physicians do not entirely understand the role of chemotherapy in different stages of cancer, particularly lung cancer. This potentially leads to a less than appropriate referral rate to medical oncologists for continued care. Patients who have received a diagnosis of cancer should seek a second opinion or a consultation with an oncologist.

Reference: Wassenaar T, Eickhoff J, Jarzemsky D, et al. Differences in Primary Care Clinician’s Approach to Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) Patients Compared to Breast Cancer (BrCa). Proceedings from the 42nd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. June 2006. Atlanta, GA. Abstract 7041.

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