During the year after an influential U.S. task force advised providers to stop routine screening colonoscopies in seniors over age 75 because risks of harm outweigh benefits, as many as 30% of these "potentially or probably inappropriate" procedures were still being performed, with huge pattern variation across the nation, especially in Texas.
"We found that a large proportion of colonoscopies that are performed in these older patients were potentially inappropriate based on age-based screening guidelines," says Kristin Sheffield, PhD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, lead researcher of the study.
For patients between 70 and 74, "procedures were repeated too soon after a negative exam," increasing the odds of avoidable harm, such as "perforations, major bleeding, diverticulitis, severe abdominal pain or cardiovascular events," she says. The guidance, from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which was released in 2008, also set a 10-year interval for routine colonoscopies for people between age 70 to 75 unless the patient develops certain symptoms.
The task force's prior guidance issued in 2002 had no age limit recommendation, Sheffield says.
"For some physicians, more than 30% of the colonoscopies they performed were potentially inappropriate according to these screening guidelines," she says. "So this variation suggests that there are some providers who are overusing colonoscopy for screening purposes in older adults," Sheffield said.