Cancer Care for Older People

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Macmillan Cancer support warns that morality rates amongst older people with cancer are too high. It says doctors frequently give treatment plans purely based on a patient’s age, ignoring individual needs.

Cancer mortality rates for people aged 74-84 in the UK are improving much more slowly than for younger patients, it said, and are rising for those aged 85 or greater. With half of all new cancer cases appearing in the over-70s, this was a major health issue, Macmillan said.

Ciarán Devane, the charity’s chief executive said blanket age-based decisions on who should  is entitled to receive certain treatment amounted to “an unacceptable act of discrimination”. Devane said that “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”.

Macmillan’s report, The Age Old Excuse, warns that doctors often give recommendations for treatment purely based on a patient’s age, ignoring individual levels of fitness, and that separate health problems relevant to the treatment are sometimes not properly identified or managed. This effect is magnified because too few older patients are involved in clinical trials, it says.

Another study undertaken by the King’s Fund criticised the entire attitude to elderly care, saying the approach and language used suggested that staff were ageist. Michelle Mitchell, from Age UK, added: “Health services cannot deliver high-quality services unless older people are treated as individuals and their care is co-ordinated”.

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