Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999 Oct 6;91(19):1641-6.

Diagnostic testing following fecal occult blood screening in the elderly.

Author information

  • 1Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, VT.



Screening with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) has been shown to reduce colorectal cancer mortality in controlled trials. Recently, Medicare approved payment for FOBT screening. We evaluated the pattern of diagnostic testing following the initial FOBT in elderly Medicare beneficiaries. Such follow-up testing would in the long run influence both the cost and the benefit of widespread use of FOBT.


Using Medicare's National Claims History System, we identified 24 246 Americans 65 years old or older who received FOBT at physician visits between January 1 and April 30, 1995. Prior to FOBT, these people had no evidence of any conditions for which FOBT might be used diagnostically. We examined relevant diagnostic testing in this cohort during the subsequent 8 months and determined what proportion of those received an evaluation recommended by the American College of Physicians.


For every 1000 Medicare beneficiaries who received FOBT, 93 (95% confidence interval = 89-96 per 1000) had positive findings and relevant testing in the subsequent 8 months. Of these, 34% had the recommended evaluation of either colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy with an air-contrast barium enema. Another 34% received a partial colonic evaluation with either flexible sigmoidoscopy or a barium enema. The remaining 32% received other gastrointestinal (GI) testing without evaluation of the colonic lumen: computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging of the abdomen (15%), upper GI series (10%), carcinoembryonic antigen (7%), and upper endoscopy (2%). Restricting the analysis to testing performed within 2 months of the initial FOBT yielded similar results.


Following FOBT, many Medicare beneficiaries get further diagnostic testing, but only a small proportion receives the recommended evaluation. With this pattern of practice, population screening is likely to be more costly and less effective than estimated from controlled trials.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire
    Loading ...
    Support Center