We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
Special Communication |

Cancer Screening in Elderly Patients A Framework for Individualized Decision Making

Louise C. Walter, MD; Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2001;285(21):2750-2756. doi:10.1001/jama.285.21.2750.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Considerable uncertainty exists about the use of cancer screening tests in older people, as illustrated by the different age cutoffs recommended by various guideline panels. We suggest that a framework to guide individualized cancer screening decisions in older patients may be more useful to the practicing clinician than age guidelines. Like many medical decisions, cancer screening decisions require weighing quantitative information, such as risk of cancer death and likelihood of beneficial and adverse screening outcomes, as well as qualitative factors, such as individual patients' values and preferences. Our framework first anchors decisions through quantitative estimates of life expectancy, risk of cancer death, and screening outcomes based on published data. Potential benefits of screening are presented as the number needed to screen to prevent 1 cancer-specific death, based on the estimated life expectancy during which a patient will be screened. Estimates reveal substantial variability in the likelihood of benefit for patients of similar ages with varying life expectancies. In fact, patients with life expectancies of less than 5 years are unlikely to derive any survival benefit from cancer screening. We also consider the likelihood of potential harm from screening according to patient factors and test characteristics. Some of the greatest harms of screening occur by detecting cancers that would never have become clinically significant. This becomes more likely as life expectancy decreases. Finally, since many cancer screening decisions in older adults cannot be answered solely by quantitative estimates of benefits and harms, considering the estimated outcomes according to the patient's own values and preferences is the final step for making informed screening decisions.

Figures in this Article

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?


Figure. Upper, Middle, and Lower Quartiles of Life Expectancy for Women and Men at Selected Ages
Graphic Jump Location
Data from the Life Tables of the United States.9



Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

471 Citations

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

See Also...
Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Falls, Older Adults

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Original Article: Does This Older Adult With Lower Extremity Pain Have the Clinical Syndrome of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?