Few elderly Americans are getting screenings for early detection of colon cancer, in spite of new Medicare benefits that pay for them.
``Medicare beneficiaries' use of colorectal cancer services falls far short of recommended levels,'' says new study by the General Accounting Office, released at a hearing of the Senate Aging Committee
In 1999, just 14 percent of Americans over age 65 got one of four types of colon cancer detection tests through Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
The report said many people may not be getting the screenings because they don't know Medicare covers them, they are embarrassed to ask their doctor or they believe the tests would be too uncomfortable.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, after lung cancer, with an estimated 129,400 cases and 56,600 deaths reported in 1999. However, it is a slow-developing disease, and early detection and treatment can significantly reduce fatalities.
For people over aged 50, a simple test to detect blood in feces - one symptom of colon cancer - is recommended yearly. Other, more thorough tests, such as colonoscopy, are recommended every 5 to 10 years.
Medicare began covering the preventive screenings in 1998. Beneficiaries can get the annual fecal test at no out-of-pocket cost, even if they have not yet paid their Medicare deductible.