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Choosing Wisely

Cancer Screening

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

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.

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  1. Reference A : Lee SJ, Boscardin WJ, Stijacic-Cenzer I, et al. 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 ;345:e8441.