Older Americans oppose cancer screening cutoffs based on life expectancy.

Older Americans oppose cancer screening cutoffs based on life expectancy.

Older Adults Disagree with Age Cutoffs for Cancer Screening Based on Life Expectancy

Cancer Screening

Are age cutoffs for cancer screenings based on life expectancy a thing of the past? A recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging reveals that a majority of older adults disagree with this approach. The poll, which included over 2,500 adults aged 50 to 80, aimed to gauge their opinions on the use of age cutoffs in cancer screening guidelines.

Personalized Approach to Cancer Screening

The traditional approach to cancer screening has been to use one-size-fits-all age cutoffs. However, this new poll suggests that older adults prefer individualized and personalized screening decisions based on their health situation rather than age.

Dr. Brian Zikmund-Fisher, a health care decision-making researcher and professor from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, believes that personalizing cancer screening decisions could benefit both healthy and less healthy patients. He emphasizes the importance of discussing life expectancy during the screening decision process and acknowledges that sometimes, not doing a screening might be the healthiest approach.

Risks and Benefits

The shift towards personalized screening decisions is partly due to the fact that some screening tests pose higher risks for older adults. Additionally, research shows that to reap the full benefits of early cancer detection, a person needs to live around 10 years after the screening.

Even individuals who prefer minimal medical interventions, known as “medical minimizers,” disagreed with the use of life expectancy for cancer screening guidelines. The majority of those polled believed it was perfectly acceptable for older adults to undergo screenings that aren’t recommended by national guidelines.

Adjusting Guidelines and Insurance Coverage

Cancer screening guidelines play a crucial role in helping doctors determine the appropriate screening tests for their patients. These guidelines also impact insurance coverage. Currently, insurance plans must cover the cost of cancer screenings based on guidelines set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). However, a federal court case could potentially disrupt this coverage.

The ongoing court case might allow insurers to set their own coverage standards, disregarding national guidelines. Consequently, some older adults could lose insurance coverage for certain cancer screenings if guidelines are no longer mandated.

Differing Opinions

Opinions on using life expectancy in screening recommendations varied among different demographic groups. The poll results showed strong disagreement among Black respondents, with 37% strongly disagreeing compared to 28% of Hispanic participants and 24% of white individuals. This disparity highlights the importance of considering diverse perspectives when formulating screening guidelines.

Furthermore, the poll found that among “medical minimizers,” 57% disagreed with using life expectancy in cancer screening guidelines. This disagreement was even more pronounced among “medical maximizers,” with 73% opposing the use of life expectancy as a basis for screening decisions.


As new evidence emerges regarding the most beneficial cancer screening practices, guidelines often evolve. The draft guideline from the USPSTF, for instance, recommends lowering the age for mammogram screenings to 40 but continues to advise against screening women over 75.

Ultimately, the poll conducted by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging reveals strong opposition among older adults to age cutoffs for cancer screenings based on life expectancy. These findings emphasize the need for personalized, patient-centered approaches to screening decisions, considering individual health situations rather than relying solely on age.