Regular physicals boost cancer screenings

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Getting an annual, or bi-annual, physical exam can help you ward off cancer because needed screenings are more likely performed, according to a study by researchers at University of California - Davis, the University of Washington, and Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, published in the March 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Because people go to the doctor anyway when they feel sick or have a medical problem, some authorities have questioned whether preventive, or general, health examinations are worth the extra time and effort," said lead author Joshua Fenton, assistant professor of family and community medicine at UC Davis.

"Our study suggests they are. If people over 50 have checkups every year or two, they're more likely to go ahead and get the cancer screenings they need," added Fenton.

The study found that patients who had a general checkup were over three times as likely as those who didn't to get some type of colon cancer screening, such as fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and barium enema. Also patients getting checkups were more likely to be screened for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test for prostate cancer.

Additionally, mammography rates increased in patients getting regular exams. The researchers believe this is true because women are more likely to receive reminders from practices when they are due for a mammogram.

"The preventive health exam may be an auspicious time to promote cancer screening," Fenton said. "These visits may afford primary care physicians the opportunity to discuss and recommend cancer screening when indicated, and physicians' recommendations have been consistently associated with timely cancer screening."