Medical Tests – To Have or Not

After the age of 70, you may not need four major screenings for cancer, according to health experts who indicate concern about over-testing many 70s, 80s and even older people. The worry is that unnecessary screenings could lead to invasive procedures or treatments that leave patients worse off than before; especially true for those with serious health problems. Four tests that may be unnecessary are: colonoscopy, mammogram, PSA test and Pap smear. Having a colonoscopy past age 75 may do little to protect against cancer – the risk drops to about two percent at that age yet the risk of complications from the test increases with age. Regarding mammograms, after 75 the evidence for continuing the exams shows insufficient evidence to continue, yet there could be harmful side effects. PSA tests are not recommended past age 75 even though 41 percent of men over 75 still have the screening. Many men can skip this one. A Pap smear can be crossed off your to-do list if a 65-year-old woman has had three negative Pap smears to check for cervical cancer in the previous 10 years. As always, checking out all of these medical tests with your doctor is necessary and recommended since every case and every person is different. These recommendations are from a Harvard study of 70 million Medicare patients ages 70 to 79 and from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

On the other hand, there are two tests that should be added for those 65 or over. They are: bone density scan and an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. The bone density scan is for both men and women while the aortic screening is for men; it is unclear whether routine screening would benefit women ages 65 to 75 even for past smokers. Women who have never smoked should not have this screening. For more information, see: AARP The Magazine, February/March 2017.

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