Older Americans Are Being Overscreened for Cancer

Older Americans may be receiving cancer screenings not recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, according to a study published in JAMA.

The task force recommends routine screening for colorectal, cervical and breast cancers. However, the recommendations end for people at upper ages or who develop a condition that decreases their life expectancy. A routine screening above the recommended age is called overscreening.

“There are two reasons why people should stop screening for cancer,” Jennifer Moss, assistant professor of family and community medicine and public health sciences, said in a press release. “First, when they ‘age-out’ of the recommended screening age, or second, when their life expectancy is too low. As with any clinical procedure, there are risks from the cancer screening tests. These risks are even higher for people who have aged-out or who have a low life expectancy.”

In this study, researchers analyzed data on 20,937 men and 34,244 women for colorectal cancer, 82,811 women for cervical cancer and 38,356 women for breast cancer. Subsequently, they identified overscreened patients as those over age 75 for colorectal cancer screening, and women over 65 for cervical and over 75 for breast cancer screenings. The researchers also determined patient location and whether the patient lived in or near a city.

According to the results, found researchers found overscreening of 59.3% of men and 56.2% of women for colorectal cancer; 45.8% of women for breast cancer and 73% of women for breast cancer. “This pattern emphasizes the need for additional research to identify risks and benefits of screening in older adults and determine who may benefit from screening after the recommended upper-age limits,” the researchers wrote.