Patients with advanced cancer undergo common non-beneficial cancer screening tests

October 05, 2015

The researchers found that among women, following advanced cancer diagnosis compared with controls, at least 1 screening mammogram was received by 8.9 percent vs. 22.0 percent and Papanicolaou test screening was received by 5.8 percent vs. 12.5 percent. Among men with advanced cancer, 15.0 percent received PSA testing compared with 27.2 percent of controls. For all patients following advanced diagnosis compared with controls, lower GI endoscopy was received by 1.7 percent vs. 4.7 percent. Screening was more frequent among patients with a recent history of screening. Higher socioeconomic status and married status were significantly associated with a higher probability of screening for each test evaluated.

"The strongest predictor of screening in the setting of advanced cancer was the receipt of a screening test before diagnosis. The most plausible interpretation of our data is that efforts to foster adherence to screening have led to deeply ingrained habits. Patients and their health care practitioners accustomed to obtaining screening tests at regular intervals continue to do so even when the benefits have been rendered futile in the face of competing risk from advanced cancer," the authors write.

"Our results have several policy implications. First, greater awareness that screening in the face of limited life expectancy from advanced cancer is of dubious benefit may in and of itself limit use. Second, as electronic medical records and reminder systems are developed to foster screening adherence, they should also include program features that flag when conditions suggest re-evaluation or cessation of screening based on competing comorbidities. Electronic medical records increasingly have the sophistication to track cancer stage at diagnosis and disease status and to link this to screening reminder systems. Alternatively, the Medicare program might not provide coverage for cancer screening procedures for patients with life expectancy of less than 2 years."

Source JAMA