Should You Get a Colonoscopy After 75?

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Older senior couple
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Typically, medical professionals recommend that older Americans can stop routine screenings for colorectal cancer after the age of 75. But is that suggestion always wise?

Maybe not, if a new study is right. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers say continued screenings for those older than 75 and in otherwise good health can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer-related death by around 40%. Those findings were published in May in the journal JAMA Oncology.

For the study, co-investigator Dr. Andrew T. Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at the hospital, pored over data related to the incidence of colorectal cancer and deaths tied to colorectal cancer. This data was on patients who were followed from 1988 through 2016.

The researchers found that screening after age 75 was tied to a 39% decrease in colorectal cancer and a 40% decrease in risk of death related to colorectal cancer among all who were screened during those years.

In a press release, Chan says:

“Until now, there really weren’t clear data to help us decide whether patients should be screened after age 75. Current guidance was largely based on modeling and extrapolation of studies conducted in other age groups, and not on solid data to show whether screening was actually helpful in an older population.”

However, not everyone benefited from screenings after age 75. Individuals older than 75 with cardiovascular disease, diabetes or three or more other health conditions did not receive “a significant survival benefit” from the screenings.

Chan says that although the study findings “really demonstrate that there is value in continuing screening past age 75 for many individuals,” it doesn’t mean everyone should continue to undergo routine colonoscopy screenings later in life.

Instead, he says, “the key take-home message is that screening should be tailored according to individual risk factors.”

Traditionally, experts have recommended routine colonoscopy screenings for people between the ages of 50 and 75. But recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age to begin such screenings from 50 to 45.

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