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C. The Potential Downside of Cancer Screening for the Elderly

Narrator: This is Science Today. Most cancer screening guidelines are age-based and for good reason, as age does play a big part in the development of many cancers. But Louise Walter, a geriatrics expert at the University of California, San Francisco, says there needs to be a better approach when it comes to the elderly - not only because of the great variability in health status among the senior population, but also because in the frail elderly, screening tests may have a downside.

Walter: Not only do people that have life-limiting diseases already or limited life expectancies have a low likelihood of benefit, they also have, I think, a higher potential to have harm.

Narrator: Walter says that's because of the physical and mental stress that may occur with follow-up testing, biopsies and surgeries.

Walter: You have to believe that by finding something and doing something about it, you've improved that person's quality of life and added to their years of life. Whereas, if they already have another severe illness, then going through all that may not be a benefit.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.