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Are Too Many Older People Screened for Cancer?
Date:12/12/2011

n who took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey.

Among women 75 to 79 years old, 62 percent had received a mammogram to screen for breast cancer in the past two years, as had 50 percent of women 80 and older. Pap screens for cervical cancer were done on 53 percent of women 75 to 79, and 38 percent of women 80 and older, the researchers found.

Fifty-seven percent of men and women 75 to 79 were screened for colon cancer in the previous two years.

Prostate cancer screening was undertaken by 57 percent of those 75 to 79; 42 percent of men 80 and older; and 40 percent of those 50 to 74, the researchers found.

The study is published in the Dec. 12/26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

People over 75 were most likely to be screened for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer if a doctor recommended it, Bellizzi's team found. Also, college-educated men and women were most likely to be screened, while those without a high school diploma were least likely to get screened.

There is no "one size fits all solution," Bellizzi said. "Screening decisions should be individualized based on life expectancy, health status, an informed discussion with the patient about the potential harms and benefits, and patient values and preferences."

Dr. Louise C. Walter, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of an accompanying journal editorial, agreed that age should not be the sole determinant of screening.

"What you really want to do is encourage individualized decisions," Walter said, suggesting that doctors weigh general health and life expectancy before recommending cancer screening.

"There are lots of very healthy people that have long life expectancy, and cancer increases as you get older, so it makes sense to get screened," she said.

But there are also a lot of very ill people for whom screening can be harmful, she added, referring to the ha
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