Choosing Wisely:

Don’t recommend cancer screening in adults with life expectancy of less than 10 years.

Rationale and Comments: Screening for cancer can be lifesaving in otherwise healthy at-risk patients. While screening tests lead to a mortality benefit, which emerges years after the test is performed, they expose patients to immediate potential harms. Patients with life expectancies of less than 10 years are unlikely to live long enough to derive the distant benefit from screening. However, these patients are in fact more likely to experience the harms since patients with limited life expectancy are more likely to be frail and more susceptible to complications of testing and treatments. Therefore, the balance of potential benefits and harms does not favor recommending cancer screening in patients with life expectancies of less than 10 years.
Sponsoring Organizations:
  • Society of General Internal Medicine
  • Sources:
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
  • Disciplines:
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Preventive Medicine
  • References: • Lee SJ, Boscardin WJ, Stijacic-Cenzer I, Conell-Price J, O'Brien S, Walter LC. Time lag to benefit after screening for breast and colorectal cancer: meta-analysis of survival data from the United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Denmark. BMJ. 2012 Jan 8;345:e8441.
    • Moyer VA, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for prostate cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Jul 17;157(2):120-34.
    • Schröder FS, Hugosson J, Roobol, MJ, Tammela TL, Ciatto S, Nelen V, Kwiatkowski M, Lujan M, Lilja H, Zappa M, Denis LJ, Recker F, Páez A, Määttänen L, Bangma CH, Aus G, Carlsson S, Villers A, Rebillard X, van der Kwast T, Kujala PM, Blijenberg BG, Stenman UH, Huber A, Taari K, Hakama M, Moss SM, de Koning HJ, Auvinen A; ERSPC Investigators. Prostate-cancer mortality at 11 years of follow-up. N Engl J Med. 2012 Mar 15;366(11):981-90.
    • Whitlock EP, Lin JS, Liles E, Beil TL, Fu R. Screening for colon cancer: a targeted updated systematic review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2008 Nov 4;149(9):638-58.
    • Walter LC and Covinsky KE. Cancer screening in elderly patients: a framework for individualized decision making. JAMA. 2001 Jun 6;285(21):2750-6.

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