Why do new cancer diagnoses increase at age 65?

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 7, 2021 (HealthDay News) – A few years ago, Dr. Joseph Shrager, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, noticed that lung cancer diagnoses were significantly higher at 65 than at a little older or younger ages.

“There was no reason the rates should differ much between the ages of 63 and 65,” Shrager said.

He discussed it with his colleagues, who said they were seeing something similar.

“We decided to explore this, and its wider implications, in a larger population,” Shrager said in a press release from Stanford.

What did they find in their study? A sudden increase in cancer cases among Americans at age 65 may be due to many seniors delaying care until they are covered by Medicare.

To come to this conclusion, the team analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of patients across the United States who were between the ages of 61 and 69 when they were diagnosed with lung, breast, colon cancer. or prostate from 2004 to 2016.


The researchers found that there was a greater increase in diagnoses of these cancers at the 64- to 65-year-old transition than at all other age transitions.

Lung cancer diagnoses have steadily increased by 3% to 4% each year among people aged 61 to 64, but the percentage doubled at age 65.

The increase was even greater with colon cancer. Diagnoses rose 1% to 2% per year in the years leading up to Medicare eligibility, then soared to almost 15% at age 65.

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In the years after age 65, rates of diagnosis declined for all cancers, according to the study published March 29 in the journal Cancer.

It also found that insured cancer patients over the age of 65 are more likely to have surgery and have a lower five-year cancer death rate than younger uninsured cancer patients.

“Collectively, these results demonstrate that Medicare eligibility, an event coinciding with age 65, is associated with an increase in early-stage cancer diagnoses and a resulting survival benefit,” wrote Researchers.

“Essentially, we’ve shown that there is a big jump in cancer diagnoses as people reach age 65 and are therefore eligible for Medicare,” said Shrager, lead author of the study. “This suggests that many people are delaying their care for financial reasons until they obtain health insurance through Medicare.”


Delaying cancer screening or treatment can affect patients’ chances of survival, Shrager warned.

The researchers noted that people aged 61 to 64 “often lack insurance due to early retirement, pre-existing conditions hampering renewal, the high cost of private insurance and other causes.”

Between 13% and 25% of adults in this age group are uninsured or have a shortfall in medical coverage at some point before they are eligible for Medicare.

“If you don’t get the right screening or a timely diagnosis, you’ll have lower cure rates,” Shrager said. “This study highlights the big difference that some sort of Medicare expansion could make.”

More information

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has more information on the elderly and cancer.

SOURCE: Stanford University School of Medicine, press release, March 30, 2021

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