Colonoscopy After 75

Have you heard that the ’70s are the new 50’s? That’s what I have been reading lately. That’s great news if we do the things to take care of ourselves. Time Magazine recently came out with an article explaining the Blue Zones where people live to be in their 100’s. When you have time, look up the Blue Zones and read about what these “super agers” do to keep healthy. What if numbers confuse our mind and we were to think we are supposed to be old just because we are labeled by a number? It’s very interesting.

Here in the US,  has been much speculation as to whether a colonoscopy is necessary after a woman reaches the age of 75.  As we all know a colonoscopy can find and remove cancerous growths in the colon. However, they feel it may not provide much cancer prevention after 75 years of age, according to a new study.  

More than 1.3 million Medicare patients aged 70 to 79 found that having a colonoscopy reduced colon cancer risk slightly over 8 years, from just under 3% to a little more than 2% in those younger than 75.  For those over 75, it had little or no effect on cancer risk.

Vice president for cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, Robert Smith, said it would be misguided to stop all colonoscopies for those women who have turned 75.  Overall health and life expectancy of the patient is the better criterion. Individualized decisions about if screening is appropriate for those over 75, should be determined by the patients themselves.

From the age of 50 to 75 the screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend screening for colon cancer by any method.  This is a procedure that is reimbursed by Medicare, regardless of the patient’s age. It is not recommended that people with limited life expectancy be screened.  

Dr. Xabier Garcia-Albeniz is a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health and study leader who, with his colleagues, note that colonoscopy is an invasive procedure that requires a thorough bowel cleansing and often sedation beforehand.  There are risks of complications that include bowel perforation during the procedure. They do indicate, however, that the study found that the risk for serious harm from colonoscopy was small in both age groups.

The patients and their physicians should consider these findings when making decisions about colorectal cancer screening, especially in the upper age groups.  This report was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

They also reported that healthy individuals will benefit from screening, but not if you are likely to die from something else.  If you do have colon cancer but are likely to die before there are symptoms, then screening doesn’t help very much and the prep for this is not a pleasant one.  If you are younger than 75, be certain to consider the benefits of having this screening done.

Ok, now for my opinion. If you feel like you are a young 75-year-old or older, please keep your checkups going and your colonoscopy done. I feel too many people are dying prematurely because there are so many rules on what age we are supposed to do certain things. Age can sometimes only be a number. Live what is in your mind!

Dr Fredda Branyon