While most organizations urge people over the age of 50 to get screened for colon cancer, a study has found that colonoscopies are often overused by the elderly.
According to a study at the University of Texas, older people used colonoscopies too often, and 23 percent of the screenings were found to be inappropriate. In 2008, the United States Preventative Services Task Force also recommended against screening colorectal cancer in adults over 75 and against any screenings in those over 85.
Bill Fullington is one example of the dangers of colon cancer screenings. Fullington, 80, had a colonoscopy and doctors removed two polyps. The next day, Fullington was in excruciating pain and returned to the hospital to discover that his colon had been perforated. He had to undergo a colostomy, and spent a week in intensive care. He later developed a painful crimp in his stomach, and suffered months of side effects.
However, that does not mean that people should stop getting colonoscopies. As March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, people over the age of 50, the most at-risk group, should get regular screenings. However, the treatment is overused on senior citizens, and the prep for a colonoscopy can cause weeks of cycling between diarrhea and constipation.
The use of screenings is also discouraged in older people as the benefits decrease, according to Dr. Goodwin, the head of the study. Colon cancer evolves slowly, and polyps take years to become cancerous, if they do. By that time, older people would have most likely died from other causes.
The study also found that the gastroenterologists most likely to perform inappropriate colonoscopies were older, male, graduates of United States rather than overseas medical schools, and working in high-volume practices.
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Source: The New York Times, "Too Many Colonoscopies in the Elderly," March 13, 2013.