Older adults have many questions about screening tests, especially for cancer. But before administering any test, I ask one very important question: what will you do with the answers you get?
If the older adult doesn’t think he or she will do anything with or about the diagnosis, there’s no reason to get the screening. I tell my patients: “Don’t go looking for trouble if you’re not going to do anything about it.”
The mostly commonly discussed screening for men is for prostate cancer. Most professional organizations have backed off of routine screening for prostate cancer unless the man has a family history of the disease or strong risk factors. And prostate screening is generally not recommended for men older than 70 or 75 years of age.
This is because, while the incidence of prostate cancer increases as men age, many men, especially those over 85, will die with prostate cancer not because of it, and there are significant side effects that can result from treating the disease.
When you are deciding whether or not you should have a health screening, consider where you are in life. Many cancer screenings only improve life expectancy if they’re performed when a person is younger. Most cancer screenings aren’t recommended for anyone with a life expectancy of less than five years.
In addition, some screenings, like a colonoscopy, are invasive and also carry some amount of risk as well, include tearing or perforating colon or rectum wall. And again, while colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colon cancer, it’s recommended for those with an average risk of colon cancer to get the screening at age 50 and then every five years thereafter, stopping at age 70 to 75. After age 75 the risk of colon cancer with symptoms is much lower. The patient usually dies of some other disease with colon cancer, rather than of colon cancer.
No matter what, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of cancer screenings and what is best for you.
This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical needs.