Intended for healthcare professionals


Evaluation of questionnaire on cancer family history in general practice

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 15 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:186

Principal role of primary care is not to seek out those at increased genetic risk

  1. Jon Emery (, Cancer Research Campaign primary care oncology research fellow
  1. Imperial Cancer Research Fund General Practice Research Group, University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  2. Mill Stream Surgery, Benson, Oxfordshire OX10 6RL
  3. East Barnwell Health Centre, Cambridge CB5 8SP
  4. Department of Oncology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ
  5. Department of Medical Genetics, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ

    EDITOR—I am concerned about the implicit message underlying the study by Leggatt et al evaluating a questionnaire on cancer family history to identify patients at increased genetic risk—namely, the promotion of family history screening in primary care.1 The authors seem to assume that evidence is sufficient to justify proactively identifying people at increased genetic risk of cancer. However, assessment of family history falls far short of the Wilson and Junger criteria for a screening test.

    The study of colonoscopy in patients with hereditary non-polyposis coli was a non-randomised controlled trial that did not find a significant effect on mortality at 10 years.2 The study of mammography was an observational study from a single cancer family clinic.3 Unfortunately, this is the best available evidence to support these surveillance methods in people at increased genetic risk of colorectal or breast cancer.

    The authors acknowledge that a postal questionnaire is a poor screening tool because of the low response rate achieved with this method, but they suggest its …

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