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BMC Health Serv Res. 2009 Oct 12;9:185. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-9-185.

Are U.S. cancer screening test patterns consistent with guideline recommendations with respect to the age of screening initiation?

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  • 1Department of Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research Policy Program, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.



U.S. cancer screening guidelines communicate important information regarding the ages for which screening tests are appropriate. Little attention has been given to whether breast, colorectal and prostate cancer screening test use is responsive to guideline age information regarding the age of screening initiation.


The 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Social Survey and the 2003 National Health Interview Surveys were used to compute breast, colorectal and prostate cancer screening test rates by single year of age. Graphical and logistic regression analyses were used to compare screening rates for individuals close to and on either side of the guideline recommended screening initiation ages.


We identified large discrete shifts in the use of screening tests precisely at the ages where guidelines recommend that screening begin. Mammography screening in the last year increased from 22% [95% CI = 20, 25] at age 39 to 36% [95% CI = 33, 39] at age 40 and 47% [95% CI = 44, 51] at age 41. Adherence to the colorectal cancer screening guidelines within the last year increased from 18% [95% CI = 15, 22] at age 49 to 19% [95% CI = 15, 23] at age 50 and 34% [95% CI = 28, 39] at age 51. Prostate specific antigen screening in the last year increased from 28% [95% CI = 25, 31] at age 49 to 33% [95% CI = 29, 36] and 42% [95% CI = 38, 46] at ages 50 and 51. These results are robust to multivariate analyses that adjust for age, sex, income, education, marital status and health insurance status.


The results from this study suggest that cancer screening test utilization is consistent with guideline age information regarding the age of screening initiation. Screening test and adherence rates increased by approximately 100% at the breast and colorectal cancer guideline recommended ages compared to only a 50% increase in the screening test rate for prostate cancer screening. Since information regarding the age of cancer screening initiation varies across countries, results from this study also potentially have implications for cross-country comparisons of cancer incidence and survival statistics.

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