EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 31, 2013

Will you be alive in 10 years? Scientists say they can predict

It turns out that answering 12 simple yes or no questions can give you a decent idea of whether you’re going to be alive in 10 years, at least if you’re older than 50.

University of California, San Francisco researchers have created an index that may help predict the chances of older people living an additional decade.

The index is not exactly a crystal ball. But the hope is that doctors can use it to identify which patients may benefit from preventive interventions and which ones might not have enough years left to justify costly and burdensome screenings.

The survey incorporates the idea of “lag time-to-benefit,” or the time between when a screening points to the emergence of a disease and when the patient starts having serious problems.

A colonoscopy, for example, might detect a small abnormal polyp that could develop into full-blown colon cancer in eight years, said Dr. Marisa Cruz, the lead author of the study. If that is the case, then it might not be worth the burden, risks and costs of close surveillance if the patient is likely to live five more years in the first place.

“If your life expectancy is less than the lag time-to-benefit, then those preventive interventions are more likely to expose you to harm than to improve your health outcome,” Cruz said.

On the other hand, she said, if the index points to a longer life, then it may be worth being more aggressive.

All interventions carry the risk of negative side effects and many are expensive. Some, like colonoscopies, are burdensome. The stress of not knowing test results and of false positives also factor into the overall onus of the tests.

The index was reported this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers examined data from between 1998 and 2008 of 20,000 adults nationwide who were at least 50 years old.

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