Age-related disparities in cancer screening: Analysis of 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data

Anthony F Jerant, Peter Franks, J. Elizabeth Jackson, Mark P. Doescher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: Although few studies have explored age-related health care disparities, some researchers have asserted such disparities uniformly disfavor the elderly and are largely attributable to ageism in the health care system. We compared age-related patterns of screening for colorectal cancer with those for breast and prostate cancer in persons aged 50 years and older. METHODS: We analyzed data for all adults aged 50 years and older (N = 88,213) in the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationally representative, telephone-administered survey of personal health behaviors. Main outcome measures were adjusted prevalence by 5-year age-groups of colorectal cancer screening using fecal occult blood testing, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy for men and women; rates of mammography screening for women; and rates of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening for men. RESULTS: After adjustment for race/ethnicity, education level, income, health insurance, and self-rated health, predicted reported colorectal cancer screening (all modalities) increased significantly from when patients reached age 50 years until 70 to 74 years (66.0%, standard error [SE] 0.8%), remained constant until age 80 years, and then declined. The age-related gain in colorectal cancer screening was confined to whites among patients older than 60 years. Reported PSA screening increased until age 75 to 79 years (79.3%, SE 1.1%) and then declined, whereas reported mammography screening peaked at age 55 to 59 years (83.3%, SE 1.2%) and then declined. CONCLUSIONS: Significant age-related disparities appear to exist for both evidence-based and non-evidence-based cancer-screening interventions. The issue of age-related disparities in cancer screening is complex, with the direction of disparity favoring the elderly for some services yet disfavoring them for others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-487
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Family Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Health care surveys
  • Health services accessibility
  • Health services for the aged
  • Mass screening
  • Preventive health services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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