When I’m 65

Illustration: Giorgia Virgili

What’s on retirement bucket lists these days? Travel? Volunteer work? Try cancer screening.

Stanford professor of cardiothoracic surgery Joseph Shrager noticed that patients in his practice were diagnosed with lung cancer more often at age 65 than at 64 or 66. It seemed unlikely that the spike had a medical explanation. So he and his colleagues studied rates of cancer diagnosis in 61- to 69-year-olds and uncovered a troubling possibility: People may be waiting to get checked out until Medicare funding kicks in. The jump in diagnoses was more pronounced between 64 and 65 than in any other age transition and could be seen across the United States’ four most common cancers—lung, breast, prostate and colon.

“This suggests that many people are delaying their care for financial reasons until they get health insurance through Medicare,” Shrager told Stanford Medicine. And that, he added, is risky: “If you don’t get the right screening or prompt diagnosis, you are going to have lower cure rates.”

Summer Moore Batte, ’99, is the editor of Stanfordmag.org and the Loop. Email her at summerm@stanford.edu.