Older people 'denied cancer care'
Published on 11 March 2014 12:00 PM
A professor from Northern Ireland has urged better access to cancer care for older people.
Mark Lawler, professor at the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University Belfast, carried out a study that compared older people's access to cancer treatment with that of younger patients.
He found that many older women who have a certain form of breast cancer are not offered as much chemotherapy treatment as younger women.
He also said that many older men are denied chemotherapy for advanced cases of prostate cancer, even though they usually have more aggressive forms of the disease than younger men.
We need a fundamental change in cancer policy
More than 7 in 10 deaths (70%) caused by prostate cancer in the UK occur in men aged 75 or over.
Commenting on his findings, Prof Lawler said: 'We need a fundamental change in cancer policy for the older patient.
'Our current practices are essentially ageist, as we are making judgements based on how old the patient is rather than on their capacity to be entered into clinical trials or to receive potentially curative therapy.
'It is disappointing that we see different principles being applied for older patients when compared to younger patients, with these differences leading to poorer outcomes in the older patient.'
Older patients should not be denied access to cancer care
Prof Lawler's findings were published in an editorial in the journal BMJ, in which he called for the current disparities in cancer policy to be redressed.
He added: 'Colorectal cancer is another disease of older people, yet the evidence again suggests that optimal treatment is not being provided to this patient cohort.'
Prof Lawler's academic paper predicts that the UK is likely to see a huge increase in the number of cancer deaths because of the ageing demographic.
He also said older cancer patients should no longer be denied the same access to cancer care as young people.
It is thought that 3 in 4 cancers in men and 7 in 10 in women (70%) will occur in people over the age of 65 by 2030.
Copyright Press Association 2014