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Discussing Stopping Cancer Screening and Prognosis With Older Adults

The American Cancer Society and the American Board of Internal Medicine Choosing Wisely Campaign recommend clinicians not screen older adults who have <10 year life expectancy for breast (specific to women) or colorectal cancer (CRC). This is because these patients have little chance of experiencing the life prolonging benefits of cancer screening and instead may only experience harm from being screened. The most concerning harm of cancer screening is overdiagnosis - the diagnosis and treatment of cancers that otherwise would not have caused problems in an older adult's lifetime. Despite this, around half of adults >75 years with <10 year life expectancy are regularly screened for cancer. One reason for the overuse of these tests is that PCPs feel uncomfortable discussing stopping screening with older adults since it requires estimating and discussing patient prognosis. Some PCPs admit to recommending cancer screening to older adults with short life expectancy simply to avoid talking to patients about prognosis. However, by avoiding these discussions, PCPs may be impeding older adults' ability to make informed decisions about their care and may be putting patients at risk of the harms of cancer screening without any chance of benefit. Therefore, the investigators aim to interview PCPs and older adults about their thoughts and feelings on how PCPs may discuss older adults' prognosis in the context of talking about stopping cancer screening. Based on those findings, the investigators will develop strategies for PCPs to use to approach these discussions and will draft scripts to suggest language for PCPs to use when communicating about prognosis when recommending stopping cancer screening. Then, the investigators will study if providing PCPs with these scripts and information about their patients' prognosis is useful. Specifically, the investigators will provide 45 PCPs with information about their patients' prognosis and the example scripts before a clinic visit for up to 5 of their patients. The investigators aim to recruit 90 patients with approximately 5-10 year life expectancy. The investigators will interview PCPs and older adults after these visits to learn how and/or if the prognostic information and the scripts were used. These data are essential for improving the quality of PCP discussions around stopping cancer screening and will ultimately improve the care of older adults.

Specific Aims:

To learn from PCPs and older adults about how to discuss patient prognosis when recommending stopping cancer screening and to develop strategies for having these discussions.
To study whether providing information on patient prognosis and scripts for discussing patient prognosis when recommending stopping cancer screening are useful to PCPs and older adults.