MONDAY, July 4, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Making regular visits to a primary care doctor increases the odds you'll be screened for colon cancer, a new study says.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. But colon cancer screening is underused, the study authors said.
"These findings help underscore the continued importance and effectiveness of visits with primary care physicians in a brave new world of virtual care and population health outreach," said study co-author Dr. Ethan Halm.
He is director of the UT Southwestern Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research in Dallas.
The study researchers analyzed data from more than 968,000 Americans, aged 50 to 74, in four health systems across the country.
Those who saw a primary care doctor at least once a year were twice as likely to be screened for colon cancer. And they were 30 percent more likely to have a follow-up colonoscopy, compared with those who did not make regular visits to a primary care doctor, the researchers found.
This was true even among patients in health systems that heavily promote mail-in home stool blood tests that don't require a doctor visit.
"This result is important because screening for colon cancer can result in an early diagnosis and improved survival," Halm said in a university news release.
The study was published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on colon cancer screening.