Older Americans screened for cancer despite limited benefits

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According to a new report in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, up to 50% of older people in the United States received cancer screening despite a high probability that they would die without cancer within the next 9 years. Trevor Royce, MD, MS, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his colleagues agree that routine cancer screenings has minimal benefits for patients with a limited life expectancy.


In the study, the researchers assessed responses from 27,404 people at least 65 years old. Based on their responses, the researchers estimated their probability of death within the next 9 years and then identified which of those had recently been screened for breast, cervical, colon, and prostate cancers.


They found that 55% of men who had a 75% risk of death had received a prostate specific antigen (PSA) screening. Approximately 33% of women with a 75% risk of death received breast and cervical cancer screenings. In addition, 41% of people who were not likely to live another 10 years received colon cancer screenings.


The American Cancer Society and other professional societies recommend stopping PSA screening in men who are not expected to live another 10 years.

Older Americans screened for cancer despite limited benefits
Despite potential risks, many are still screened for cancers toward the end of their lives.
Despite potential risks and limited benefits, many Americans are still screened for cancers toward the end of their lives, according to a new study.

Up to half of older people in the U.S. received cancer screenings even though there was a high likelihood that they would die within nine years without cancer, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” write Dr. Trevor Royce and his fellow researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Several professional societies have updated their cancer screening guidelines to suggest that people who aren't expected to live another 10 years should not be screened for certain cancers.

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