Many seniors get unnecessary and potentially harmful cancer tests

Screening is an important part of routine medical care. Screening means checking a seemingly healthy person for signs of hidden disease. It is routinely done for various types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Common cancer screening tests include:

  • mammogram for breast cancer
  • PSA test for prostate cancer
  • colonoscopy for colon cancer
  • Pap smear for cervical cancer

Screening makes sense when finding and treating a hidden condition will prevent premature death or burdensome symptoms. But it doesn’t make sense when it can’t do either. That’s why experts recommend stopping screening in older individuals, especially those who aren’t likely to live another five or 10 years.

Yet an article published online in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that many doctors still recommend cancer screening tests for their older patients. Many don’t benefit, and some are even harmed by the practice.

A team from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, looked at cancer screening tests among 27,000 men and women over age 65 who took part in the National Health Interview Survey. They also ranked the participants by risk of dying in the next nine years based on their health.

Among individuals with the highest risk of dying within nine years, many had undergone cancer screening in the two years before the interview. More than half of the men in this group had a PSA test to check for hidden prostate cancer. The screening rates were 41% for colorectal cancer, 37% for breast cancer, and 31% for cervical cancer. MORE

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About The Rev. Thomas C. Jackson

Ordained to the priesthood in December, 2010.
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