Original Research

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 26, Issue 12, pp 1403-1410

First online:

Differences Between Primary Care Physicians’ and Oncologists’ Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Regarding the Care of Cancer Survivors

  • Arnold L. PotoskyAffiliated withLombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cancer Control Program, Georgetown University Medical Center Email author 
  • , Paul K. J. HanAffiliated withCenter for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Maine Medical Center
  • , Julia RowlandAffiliated withOffice of Cancer Survivorship, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute
  • , Carrie N. KlabundeAffiliated withApplied Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute
  • , Tenbroeck SmithAffiliated withBehavioral Research Center, Intramural Research Department, American Cancer Society
  • , Noreen AzizAffiliated withNational Institute of Nursing Research
  • , Craig EarleAffiliated withInstitute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
  • , John Z. AyanianAffiliated withDivision of General Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School
  • , Patricia A. GanzAffiliated withSchools of Public Health and Medicine, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California
    • , Michael StefanekAffiliated withRollins School of Public Health, Emory University

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The growing number of cancer survivors combined with a looming shortage of oncology specialists will require greater coordination of post-treatment care responsibilities between oncologists and primary care physicians (PCPs). However, data are limited regarding these physicians’ views of cancer survivors’ care.


To compare PCPs and oncologists with regard to their knowledge, attitudes, and practices for follow-up care of breast and colon cancer survivors.

Design and Subjects

Mailed questionnaires were completed by a nationally representative sample of 1,072 PCPs and 1,130 medical oncologists in 2009 (cooperation rate = 65%). Sampling and non-response weights were used to calculate estimates to reflect practicing US PCPs and oncologists.

Main Measures

PCPs and oncologists reported their 1) preferred model for delivering cancer survivors’ care; 2) assessment of PCPs’ ability to perform follow-up care tasks; 3) confidence in their knowledge; and 4) cancer surveillance practices.

Key Results

Compared with PCPs, oncologists were less likely to believe PCPs had the skills to conduct appropriate testing for breast cancer recurrence (59% vs. 23%, P < 0.001) or to care for late effects of breast cancer (75% vs. 38%, P < 0.001). Only 40% of PCPs were very confident of their own knowledge of testing for recurrence. PCPs were more likely than oncologists to endorse routine use of non-recommended blood and imaging tests for detecting cancer recurrence, with both groups departing substantially from guideline recommendations.


There are significant differences in PCPs’ and oncologists’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices with respect to care of cancer survivors. Improving cancer survivors’ care may require more effective communication between these two groups to increase PCPs’ confidence in their knowledge, and must also address oncologists’ attitudes regarding PCPs’ ability to care for cancer survivors.

Key Words

cancer care cancer survivorship physician survey physician attitudes