Treating cancer in older people

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4954 (Published 24 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4954
  1. Alistair Ring, senior lecturer in oncology
  1. 1Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Sussex Cancer Centre, Brighton BN2 5BE, UK
  1. alistair.ring{at}bsuh.nhs.uk

Assessing biological age could help to avoid undertreatment

In March 2012 Macmillan Cancer Support, one of the United Kingdom’s biggest cancer charities, launched their Age Old Excuse campaign. This campaign called for older people with cancer to be offered treatment on the basis of their physical fitness rather than their age.1 Survival rates for older patients with cancer in the UK lag behind those in other comparable countries.2

In the UK, 155 000 people aged 70 years or more are diagnosed with cancer every year. This number represents 50% of all cancer diagnoses,3 and it is likely to rise as the population ages. The challenge of treating older adults diagnosed with cancer is not unique to the UK, and the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer has convened an “elderly task force” to look at key questions.4

Poor cancer survival rates in older adults may be partly explained by undertreatment.1 5 Some older patients may decline or choose to receive less aggressive …

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