Not all screenings for breast and prostate cancers may be necessary.
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.