Older people are being denied proper access to cancer care, an academic has claimed.
A high proportion of older women with a certain form of breast cancer receive less chemotherapy than their younger counterparts, Professor Mark Lawler from Queen’s University Belfast said.
More than 70% of deaths caused by prostate cancer in the UK occur in men aged over 75, who usually have more aggressive forms of the disease, but in most cases they are denied chemotherapy for advanced cases, he said.
Prof Lawler said: “We need a fundamental change in cancer policy for the elderly 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 elderly patient.”
His findings were published in an editorial in the BMJ, which said disparities in cancer policy need to be redressed.
“Colorectal cancer is another disease of older people, yet the evidence again suggests that optimal treatment is not being provided to this patient cohort,” Mr Lawler added.
UK estimates suggest that three quarters of cancers in men and 70% in women will happen in the over-65 population by 2030.
The academic paper argued that because of the ageing demographic, a more and more rapid increase in the number of cancer deaths could be predicted unless the approach towards the elderly patient changed.