Older People May Get Unneeded Cancer Screenings
Seniors shouldn't be checked if they have less than 10 years to live, but study found almost 16 percent do
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, Jan. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many older Americans are unnecessarily screened for breast and prostate cancer, which can lead to treatments they don't need, a new study contends.
The practice may also be costing the U.S. health care system $1.2 billion a year, the researchers added.
Almost 16 percent of those 65 and older are being screened for breast or prostate cancer even though they may have less than 10 years to live, the study found. A 10-year life expectancy is a benchmark for deciding whether to screen or not. And guidelines recommend against screening for these cancers in people with a life expectancy less than 10 years, the researchers said.
"Physicians, as well as patients, should consider life expectancy when deciding the necessity of prostate cancer or breast cancer screening," said lead researcher Dr. Firas Abdollah, of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
"To achieve this goal, we need to overcome many hurdles," he said, which include the lack of easy-to-use and accurate life expectancy calculators to guide doctors in making screening recommendations.
Also, busy doctors may find it hard to explain the concept of life expectancy and why screening is not recommended for certain individuals, he added.
Robert Smith, vice president for cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, said: "This can be a hard conversation for doctors to have with patients. If a patient shows some enthusiasm for getting these tests, it's just easier to do the test than it is to have that conversation, especially if you're not that good at doing it."
In addition, it's difficult to estimate whether somebody has 10 years to live, Smith said.
The report was published online Jan. 21 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
Smith said that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms for women up to age 74. The task force does not recommend screening for prostate cancer at all, he said.
Using 10-year longevity as a benchmark for screening is the American Cancer Society's guideline, Smith said.