Influences of rurality on action to diagnose cancer by primary care practitioners– results from a Europe-wide survey in 20 countries

Peter Murchie* (Corresponding Author), Wei Khor, Rosalind Adam, Magdalena Esteva, Emmanouil Smyrnakis, Davorina Petek, Hans Thulesius, Peter Vedsted, David McLernon, Michael Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background Rural-dwellers have poorer cancer outcomes than urban counterparts, for reasons which are unclear. At healthcare institution level, poorer access to investigations and different clinical decision-making by rural primary healthcare practitioners (PCPs) could be important. Aim To compare access to investigations, attitudes to cancer diagnosis and clinical decision-making between rural and urban PCPs. Setting A vignette-based cross-sectional survey of rural and urban PCPs in 20 European countries. Methods Data on PCPs’ decision-making and attitudes to cancer diagnosis were based on clinical scenarios. Comparisons were made using tests of proportion, univariable and multivariable binary logistic regression. Results Of the 1,779 PCPs completing the survey 541 (30.4%) practiced rurally. Rural PCPs had significantly less direct access to all investigative modalities: ultrasound; endoscopy; x-ray and advanced screening (all p<0.001). Rural PCPs were as likely as urban PCPs to take diagnostic action (investigation and/or referral) at the index consultation in all four clinical vignettes ((OR, 95% CI) for lung: 0.90, 0.72-1.12; ovarian: 0.95, 0.75-1.19; breast: 0.87, 0.69-1.09; colorectal: 0.98, 0.75-1.30). Rural PCPs were less likely to refer to a specialist at the index consultation for ovarian cancer (OR 0.71 95% CI 0.51-0.99). Rural PCPs were significantly more likely to report that their patients faced barriers to accessing specialist care, but practitioners did not report greater difficulties making specialist referral than their urban counterparts Conclusions European rural PCPs report poorer access to investigations but are at least as likely as urban PCPs to investigate or refer patients that might have cancer at the index consultation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101698
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Epidemiology
Early online date6 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

The study on how practicing in a rural setting may impact upon primary care practitioners, access to tests, investigative decisions and attitudes to cancer diagnosis has received no external funding.


  • primary healthcare
  • cancer
  • rurality
  • geography
  • health outcomes
  • general practice
  • Europe
  • Geography
  • Health outcomes
  • Primary healthcare
  • General practice
  • Cancer
  • Rurality


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