Seniors often subjected to unnecessary tests

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 27th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The message gets drilled into us by doctors and other health professionals: Get regular screenings for cancer and other diseases. While preventive medicine is very important, where do you cross the line into too much testing?

That’s a question that is being asked more and more these days, especially as it pertains to seniors. In fact, many critics are wondering whether routine tests of colon, breast and other forms of cancer are actually doing more harm than good for people in their sixties, seventies and eighties. In addition to the stress these tests may create, especially among those who suffer from heart disease or dementia, they are also extremely expensive.

To address this subject, the government created the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The organization issues guidelines on which tests are appropriate and does not recommend routine prostate screening or colon screening after age 75.

The task force also says there’s no evidence one way or the other about mammograms after age 74, and recommends women older than 65 stop getting annual Pap smears to check for cervical cancer.

But these recommendations appear to have had a limited impact. According to a recent study in the magazine Cancer, more than half of primary care doctors would advise a woman with terminal lung cancer to get a mammogram, even at age 80.

Experts say many doctors recommend these tests out of habit, to avoid difficult conversations with patients or due to incentives that pay doctors and hospitals for individual procedures. So the burden may be on caregivers or the patients themselves to question whether a test is really necessary. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you think a procedure is excessive. The conversation could save you time, money and a whole lot of anxiety.