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Many older Americans may get unneeded breast, prostate cancer screenings

Staff writer ▼ | January 25, 2016
Many older Americans are unnecessarily screened for breast and prostate cancer, which can lead to treatments they don't need, a new study contends.
Breast screening
Diagnose   $1.2 billion a year
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.

Busy doctors may find it hard to explain the concept of life expectancy and why screening is not recommended for certain individuals, he added.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms for women up to age 74. The task force does not recommend screening for prostate cancer at all, he said.

Using 10-year longevity as a benchmark for screening is the American Cancer Society's guideline. Men should not be offered prostate cancer screening if they don't have 10 years of life left. Breast cancer guideline is the same.