From the Journals

Many older adults ‘overscreened’ for cancer


Unnecessary screening

The authors note that the prevalence estimates for overscreening have not been reported on a national level, and it is also unclear how overscreening may vary among subgroups.

“The reason I focused on colorectal, cervical, and breast cancers is because USPSTF has very clear, age-based recommendations for these cancers in terms of who should and should not get screened routinely,” explained Moss. “This was important because it allowed me and my coauthors to clearly say, based on age alone, this person probably was screened unnecessarily, and this person was not.”

She noted that the age-based recommendations for routine screening are based on very large clinical trials to examine the effectiveness of the screening tool. “The recommendations for lung and prostate cancer screening are not so clear cut, and we would not be able to tell, based only on the available survey data, if someone was overscreened,” she said.

For their study, the team used data from the 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overscreening was assessed in a cohort of 20,937 men and 34,244 women for colorectal cancer, 82,811 women for cervical cancer, and 38,356 women for breast cancer. Most the participants lived in a metropolitan area (about 80%) and were white (about 80%).

Being overscreened was also more common in metropolitan vs. nonmetropolitan areas for colorectal cancer in women (adjusted odds ratio, 1.23), cervical cancer (aOR, 1.20), and breast cancer (aOR, 1.36).

Overscreening for cervical and breast cancers was also associated with having a usual source of care, good/very good/excellent self-reported health, education beyond a high school diploma, and being married or living as married.

The study was carried out in 2018, and the situation is likely to have changed over recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have already seen dramatic reductions in routine cancer screening among age-eligible adults, so part of this problem of overscreening among older adults will likely diminish,” said Moss. “State and national cancer surveillance systems will continue to monitor trends in cancer screening, including overscreening, cancer incidence, and cancer mortality.”

Johns Hopkins’ Schoenborn said one finding of particular interest was that the colorectal cancer overscreening rate was higher in those older than 80 and in those with higher mortality risk.

“It makes me wonder if this is due to the increasing use of noninvasive colorectal cancer screening modalities, such as the fecal immunochemical test FIT or Cologuard,” Schoenborn commented. “It would be important for clinicians to consider downstream effects even when the initial test is low risk, such as if the stool test screens positive, would the patient still need a colonoscopy, and is that something the patient can undergo and wants to undergo?”

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society. Moss, study coauthors, and Schoenborn have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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