The reported practices and recommendations of primary care physicians with regard to cancer screening of elderly patients (65 years and older) were studied in a 1987 survey of 400 Maryland physicians. More than 90 percent of physicians in four specialties studied reported providing digital rectal examinations, physical breast examinations, and mammography to the elderly. However, only 54 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists and 68 percent of general practitioners provided sigmoidoscopy, 70 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists provided stool guaiac slide tests, 74 percent of general practitioners provided breast self-exam instruction, and 79 percent of internists provided Pap tests. Physicians were asked what screening intervals they recommended for each test for asymptomatic elderly patients. These reports were compared with current American Cancer Society (ACS) recommendations. Large proportions of physicians in four specialties recommended sigmoidoscopy and mammography less often than the ACS recommended. More than 20 percent of physicians in the four specialties believed the elderly do not need routine sigmoidoscopy. Most physicians (90 percent or more) recommended Papanicolaou tests more often than the ACS recommended. Specialty and young physician age were the best predictors of physicians' overall adherence to ACS recommendations for cancer screening schedules.