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Cancer Health Center

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Study: Many Seniors Get Unnecessary Cancer Tests

Screening shouldn't be done when patients have less than a 10-year life expectancy, researchers say


"We need to take the same approach to making decisions about cancer screening that we would for making other important health decisions," he said. "The medical community had pitched cancer screening as a no-brainer type of a decision. It's now clear that this is not the case. Screening has benefits, but also risks and costs -- caveat emptor [let the buyer beware]."

For the study, Chen and colleagues used data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (from 2000 through 2010) to collect data about cancer screening on more than 27,000 men and women aged 65 and older, and ranked them according to the risk they had of dying within 10 years.

The investigators found that among people at the highest risk of dying within 10 years, 31 percent to 55 percent were screened for cancer. Prostate cancer screening was common among the men in this high-risk group (55 percent). Among women who had a hysterectomy for benign reasons, 34 percent to 56 percent had been given a Pap test within the past three years.

The screening rates for all the patients was 64 percent for prostate cancer, 63 percent for breast cancer, 57 percent for cervical cancer and 47 percent for colon cancer, the study authors noted.

Chen's team also found that fewer men were screened for prostate cancer and fewer women for cervical cancer in more recent years, compared with 2000.

In addition, the older a patient, the less likely he or she was to be screened. Married patients, better educated patients and those with health insurance and their own regular doctor were more likely to be screened, the researchers noted.

In another study in the same journal, Frank van Hees, a researcher in the department of public health at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, looked specifically at colon cancer screening.

"Many U.S. elderly are screened for colon cancer more frequently than recommended," he said.

These researchers noted that one in every five elderly adults who had a colonoscopy that found no cancer had another colonoscopy after five years, instead of the recommended 10 years.

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