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Study examines age limits for cancer screening benefit

There is an age and a state of health that makes screening for common types of cancer neither preventative nor cost-effective. This is the conclusion of a ten-year study conducted by Dr. Trevor J. Royce of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues. The study was published in the Aug. 18, 2014, issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The event introduced a new initiative to screen women in developing countries for cervical and breast cancer.
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The study does not advocate the creation of mythological death panels that have been promulgated by some Republican pundits as a counter to the Affordable Care Act. The study is based on personal interviews with 27,404 people over the age of 65 that were part of the National Health Interview Survey from 2000 through 2010. The participant’s likelihood of living for nine years was ranked on a scale of 100 based on the participant’s history of cancer and other diseases.

Despite their age and decreased likelihood of living very much longer, the majority of older patients received regular screening tests for prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colorectal cancer. Screening rates increased for patients that had Medicare as their primary health insurance according to a separate study. Insurance companies recommend high levels of screening as long as Medicare pays the bills.

The authors advocate compliance with the terms of the Affordable Care Act that limit cancer screenings to patients that can receive some real long-term benefit from the screening. At present cancer screening in the elderly is just a grab bag for Medicare funds. The basic idea is to use limited resources in a manner that is beneficial to the patient and conserves limited funds.

The idea is simple. If you are 70 years old and have a diagnosed disease that will kill you in three to five years you do not need cancer screening. You are going to die no matter what cancer tests find. Baby boomers should pay the most heed to these results as that generation is expecting to live to be 100 regardless of the costs. If you are wondering, the author of this article is 59 years old.