Some cancer patients are being “written off” as too old for treatment, a charity has warned

  • Posted

Posted 24/01/2014

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Macmillan Cancer Support has said too many patients are assessed just by their age and not their overall fitness. It comes as research looking at data from 1991-2010 suggests some 130,000 people diagnosed with cancer after the age of 65 survived for more than 10 years. 

Macmillan Cancer Support, who conducted the research alongside the National Cancer Intelligence Network, found that of the 130,000 who had lived with the disease for more than a decade, 8,000 had been diagnosed over the age of 80.  Despite that, many patients in the UK are being denied treatment because they are deemed too old, Macmillan said, adding that cancer survival rates in the age group are “poor”.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief executive Ciaran Devane comments: “It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment. With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured.”

NHS England acknowledged that it needed to deliver better services to people in the over-65 age group. A spokesman said that “for many common cancers – including prostate, breast, lung, stomach, ovary and kidney cancers – the UK and Ireland have a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe”, adding “while it’s good news that so many older people are benefiting from treatment, many thousands more could live longer if our survival rates for over-65s matched those in comparable countries.”

He said barriers to treatment, which include “age discrimination and inadequate assessment methods”, must be addressed. NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, Sean Duffy, said that with an ageing population, the study had come at an important time. But he added: “We need to deliver better services for people over 65 and 75 because we know there’s an issue and interventions need to be designed to that end.”

He said treatment for cancer can be complex “and should be based on what is right for each individual patient.”

Dr Mark Porter of the British Medical Association said it should be a “key part” of the medical profession to ensure older patients are “treated with the care and respect they deserve”.

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal comments: “Clearly each case should be assessed separately and a decision made whether it is in the patient’s best interest to have treatment which we know in some cases can be more unpleasant and debilitating than the cancer. Where patients are otherwise fit, well and active and want to be treated it would be wrong to deny them.”


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