Colonoscopy in the elderly: Low risk, low yield in asymptomatic patients

James E. Duncan, W. Brian Sweeney, Judith L. Trudel, Robert D. Madoff, Anders F. Mellgren

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: Current colonoscopy guidelines do not address the issue of when to stop performing screening and surveillance colonoscopy in the elderly. We reviewed our experience and results of colonoscopy in patients aged 80 years and older to assess the risks and diagnostic yield in this population. METHODS: We reviewed retrospectively the endoscopic and pathologic reports from consecutive colonoscopies performed on patients aged 80 years and older at a single, high-volume endoscopy center between August 1999 and May 2003. Patient characteristics, indications for examination, findings at colonoscopy, and complications were recorded and analyzed. RESULTS: A total of 1,199 colonoscopic examinations were performed on 1,112 patients. Average age was 83.1 (range, 80-100) years. Male:female distribution was 1:1.7. Leading exclusive indications for colonoscopy included: polyp surveillance, 227 (19 percent); altered bowel habits, 168 (14 percent); iron-deficiency anemia, 132 (11 percent); and cancer follow-up, 108 (9 percent). Eighty-six examinations (7 percent) were performed solely for an indication of colorectal cancer screening. Twenty-two percent of patients had more than one indication for colonoscopy. Forty-five malignancies were found (3.7 percent). No cancers were found in the screening group, and two malignancies (0.7 percent) were detected in patients undergoing colonoscopy for polyp surveillance. There were eight (0.6 percent) reported major complications. CONCLUSIONS: Colonoscopy can be performed safely in patients aged 80 years and older. However, the diagnostic yield is low, particularly in patients undergoing routine screening or surveillance examinations. Colonoscopy should for the most part be limited to elderly patients with symptoms or specific clinical findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)646-651
Number of pages6
JournalDiseases of the colon and rectum
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Colon cancer screening
  • Colonoscopy
  • Elderly


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