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Is Colonoscopy After Age 80 Worth It?

Study: Weigh Colonoscopy's Risks and Benefits Carefully at 80 and Beyond

Colonoscopy Study

Lin's study included 1,034 people in their early 50s, 147 people in their late 70s, and 63 people who were at least 80 years old. None had already been diagnosed with colon cancer.

The oldest participants were the most likely to have their colonoscopies show abnormal growths that may or may not have been cancerous. Such growths were seen in nearly 14% of people in their early 50s, almost 27% of those in their late 70s, and about 29% of those age 80 and older.

The researchers did calculations to estimate how much extra time colonoscopy added to participants' life expectancy.

Even though abnormal growths were more common in older people, screening colonoscopy in people aged 80 and older "results in only 15% of the expected gain in life expectancy in younger patients," write Lin and colleagues.

The researchers estimate that screening colonoscopy added 0.13 years -- about a month and a half -- to the life expectancy of participants aged 80 and older, compared to 0.85 years -- about 10 months -- for those in their 50s.

Study's Limits

Lin and colleagues didn't study participants over time, so it's not clear if their calculations were right.

The mathematical model used by Lin's team to estimate life expectancy gains may not be perfect, partly because relatively few participants were in their 80s or older, but those shortcomings were "minor," writes editorialist Timothy Church, PhD.

Church works at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. He wasn't involved in Lin's study.

Many serious health problems -- including cancer -- become more common with age. But some elders are in great shape, and some people decades younger may have health issues. So people of any age should feel free to discuss the risks and benefits of any procedure or treatment with their doctors.

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