Primary Care Physicians' Decision Making Regarding Initial Oncology Referral for Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer

Lynne M. Gordon, Rebecca H. Johnson, Margaret A. Au, Shelby Langer, Karen H. Albritton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: The objectives of this study were to determine whether pediatricians are more likely than other primary care physicians (PCPs) to refer newly diagnosed adolescent and young adult patients with cancer to pediatric oncological specialists, and to assess the physician and patient characteristics that affect patterns of referral. Methods: A cross-sectional vignette survey was mailed to PCPs to examine hypothetical referral decisions as a function of physician characteristics and patient characteristics, including diagnosis, age, gender, race/ethnicity, family support, transportation, insurance, and patient preference for site of care. Pediatrician PCPs and nonpediatrician PCPs (family medicine, internal medicine, and emergency medicine physicians) practicing in North Carolina and in Washington State participated in the study. Results: A total of 406 surveys were completed (35.8% response rate). Sixty percent of pediatric PCPs referred their hypothetical patients with cancer to pediatric specialists (PSs), compared with only 37% of nonpediatric PCPs. Patient age also influenced referral patterns; 89% of 13-year-olds, 74% of 16-year-olds, 25% of 19-year-olds, and only 9% of 22-year-old patients were referred to a PS. Multivariate logistic regression demonstrated that diagnosis and physician practice setting also were associated with referral patterns. Conclusions: Both patient age and PCP specialty were significant predictors of referral patterns in hypothetical vignettes of newly diagnosed adolescent and young adult patients with cancer. Pediatricians were more likely than nonpediatrician PCPs to refer patients to a PS. Referrals to PSs decreased dramatically between ages 16 and 19. Because the site of oncological care can impact outcomes, these data have the potential to inform awareness and education initiatives directed at PCPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-183
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • AYA
  • Adolescent
  • Cancer
  • Decision making
  • Pediatric oncologist
  • Primary care physician
  • Referral patterns
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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