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Most Medicare Recipients Ignore Colorectal Cancer Screening
Date:12/10/2007

Only one-quarter seek lifesaving tests, new research find

MONDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The majority of Americans in Medicare aren't getting screened for colorectal cancer, a major killer, even though the screening is free, a new study finds.

In fact, the percentage of enrollees in Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older Americans, getting screening tests such as colonoscopies has declined since the program began paying for them, the study said.

An assessment of 153,469 Medicare members identified in 1998 found that 29.2 percent of them were screened for colorectal cancer between 1991 and 1997, when Medicare began paying for screening tests. Only 25.4 were screened between 1998 and 2004, after screening was covered by Medicare, the study found.

Failure to get those tests costs lives, said study author Dr. Gregory Cooper, interim chief of gastroenterology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

"We know that the survival curve is strongly related to the state at which the cancer is diagnosed," he said. "For the mostly fairly healthy people in this cohort, early detection would bring a benefit."

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 147,000 new cases will be diagnosed in this country this year, with 57,000 deaths.

The new study, published online Dec. 10 in the journal Cancer, looked at a variety of screening tests. They included barium enemas, methods of detecting fecal blood, and colonoscopy, which is regarded as the most definitive test. By detecting polyps before they become malignant, a colonoscopy can help prevent cancer. Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years for adults, starting at age 50.

The public, doctors and the Medicare system itself are all responsible in different ways for failures to screen for colorectal cancer, said Dr.
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