Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: When should I stop getting screening tests?

Q. I am in my early 80s, and my doctor has not yet told me when I can stop getting mammograms, colonoscopies, and Pap tests. I'm due for my annual visit soon. Are there any guidelines for when women can stop getting these tests?

A. Yes. For women with a history of normal cancer screening tests, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends stopping Pap tests at age 65, and stopping mammograms and colonoscopies at age 75.

The question of when to stop screening if you have a history of abnormal test results is a little more complicated. The answer should really be the result of a conversation between you and your doctor. Three important elements of that conversation should be your life expectancy, overall health, and personal preferences. Your family history of cancer should also play a role in the decision. And whenever a doctor recommends that you get any test, ask why you need it.

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