Scripts and Strategies for Discussing Stopping Cancer Screening with Adults > 75 Years: a Qualitative Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Jul;35(7):2076-2083. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-05735-z. Epub 2020 Mar 3.


Background: Despite guidelines recommending not to continue cancer screening for adults > 75 years old, especially those with short life expectancy, primary care providers (PCPs) feel ill-prepared to discuss stopping screening with older adults.

Objective: To develop scripts and strategies for PCPs to use to discuss stopping cancer screening with adults > 75.

Design: Qualitative study using semi-structured interview guides to conduct individual interviews with adults > 75 years old and focus groups and/or individual interviews with PCPs.

Participants: Forty-five PCPs and 30 patients > 75 years old participated from six community or academic Boston-area primary care practices.

Approach: Participants were asked their thoughts on discussions around stopping cancer screening and to provide feedback on scripts that were iteratively revised for PCPs to use when discussing stopping mammography and colorectal cancer (CRC) screening.

Results: Twenty-one (47%) of the 45 PCPs were community based. Nineteen (63%) of the 30 patients were female, and 13 (43%) were non-Hispanic white. PCPs reported using different approaches to discuss stopping cancer screening depending on the clinical scenario. PCPs noted it was easier to discuss stopping screening when the harms of screening clearly outweighed the benefits for a patient. In these cases, PCPs felt more comfortable being more directive. When the balance between the benefits and harms of screening was less clear, PCPs endorsed shared decision-making but found this approach more challenging because it was difficult to explain why to stop screening. While patients were generally enthusiastic about screening, they also reported not wanting to undergo tests of little value and said they would stop screening if their PCP recommended it. By the end of participant interviews, no further edits were recommended to the scripts.

Conclusions: To increase PCP comfort and capability to discuss stopping cancer screening with older adults, we developed scripts and strategies that PCPs may use for discussing stopping cancer screening.

Keywords: cancer screening; deprescribing; older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Early Detection of Cancer*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammography
  • Mass Screening
  • Qualitative Research