Q. Glen, What about Health Screening's? Are they Necessary?
A. An ounce of prevention is far better than a dose of drugs or treatments aimed at managing health problems once they occur. Unfortunately, major trials of preventive care strategies have often excluded older people. That means that the recommendations for screening and other health strategies may owe more to expert opinion than hard data. It’s worth noting that experts often disagree on when to start and how long to continue certain preventive care strategies.
The potential benefits of screening tests and procedures decline as you get older. Eventually, the risk of dying from other causes outweighs the odds that lowering the risk of a single disease could appreciably lengthen your life expectancy. Possible harm done by screening, follow-up tests, and treatment for certain illnesses often grows, too.
For example, prostate cancer screening is controversial. This cancer, which is often slow-growing, is very common among older men. Many men live with it for years with no discernible effect on their health. Screening for prostate cancer currently results in a high rate of false positives and complications after treatment. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises men of any age not to undergo routine screening with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer.
Your own health care provider can best help you tailor the recommendations in Prevention Guidelines based on an assessment of your goals of care, personal health history, and age. He or she should take into account your wishes for treatment should you turn out to have a particular disease, how onerous specific preventive care strategies are, and the likelihood that early detection would help extend or enhance your life.
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