Cancer under treated in over 75s

  • Date: 27 March 2012

UNDER treatment is a major factor in an estimated 14,000 avoidable cancer deaths in patients over 75, according to a report published by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The Age Old Excuse: the under treatment of older cancer patients points out that while cancer mortality rates are improving significantly for the under 75s, they are improving at a much slower rate in those aged 74-84 and actually getting worse for people aged 85 and over. This can be attributed to under treatment as well as late diagnosis and high incidence.

The number of people living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK is set to rise from two to four million in the next twenty years and half of all new diagnosed in people are aged 70 or over. Macmillan believes this is an issue which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Among the reasons cited for older patients receiving less treatment than younger patients are recommendations being made on the basis of age, regardless of how fit patients may be, and many patients unwilling to take up treatment because of inadequate practical support at home and with transport.

Oncologists and cancer surgeons also need more support to manage issues specific to older people such as falls, incontinence and multi-drug use. In a survey of 98 oncology trainees, 60 per cent reported having never received training in the particular needs of older people with cancer.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: "To deny older patients treatment that could cure them based on ill-founded assumptions is an unacceptable act of discrimination. We have a moral duty to treat people as individuals and give them the best chance of beating cancer, regardless of their age.

"As our population ages, and the number of people diagnosed with cancer grows, it is vital that steps are taken to ensure that the right people get the right treatment at the correct level of intensity, together with the practical support to enable them to take up and complete the treatment."

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