Background: Risk stratification based on family history is a feature of screening guidelines for a number of cancers and referral guidelines for genetic counseling/testing for cancer risk. Aims: Our aim was to describe primary care physician perceptions of their role in managing cancer risk based on family history. Methods: Structured interviews were conducted by a medical anthropologist with primary care physicians in 3 settings in 2 north-eastern states. Transcripts were systematically analyzed by a research team to identify major themes expressed by participants. Results: Forty interviews were conducted from May 2003 through May 2006. Physicians provided a diversity of views on roles in management of cancer risk based on family history, management practices and patient responses to risk information. They also provided a wide range of perspectives on criteria used for referral to specialists, types of specialists referred to and expected management roles for referred patients. Conclusion: Some primary care physicians appeared to make effective use of family history information for cancer risk management, but many in this sample did not. Increased focus on efficient assessment tools based on recognized guidelines, accessible guides to management options, and patient education and decision aids may be useful directions to facilitate broader use of family history information for cancer risk management.
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