Are Seniors Getting Too Many Tests?

September 18, 2011
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Every year like clockwork, Anna Peterson has a mammogram. Peterson, who will turn 80 next year, undergoes screening colonoscopies at three- or five-year intervals as recommended by her doctor, although she has never had cancerous polyps that would warrant such frequent testing. Her 83-year-old husband faithfully gets regular PSA tests to check for prostate cancer.

Every year like clockwork, Anna Peterson has a mammogram. Peterson, who will turn 80 next year, undergoes screening colonoscopies at three- or five-year intervals as recommended by her doctor, although she has never had cancerous polyps that would warrant such frequent testing. Her 83-year-old husband faithfully gets regular PSA tests to check for prostate cancer. … But increasingly, questions are being raised about the over-testing of older patients, part of a growing skepticism about the widespread practice of routine screening for cancer and other ailments of people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Critics say there is little evidence of benefit — and considerable risk — from common tests for colon, breast and prostate cancer, particularly for those with serious problems such as heart disease or dementia that are more likely to kill them.

Sandra G. Boodman in the Washington Post.