Elderly Cancer Patients Have Different Needs

Oral cancers in seniors often accompanied by comorbidities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cancer is still primarily a disease of the elderly. By the time a person reaches their seventh decade, it's common for them to have other conditions, known as co-morbidities. 

That's why caring for elderly cancer patients requires a new pair of glasses.

Research from Denmark shows that about half of elderly patients with head and neck cancers had additional health issues. The researchers conclude that properly assessing these co-morbidities is key to properly caring for these aging patients.

"Tell your doctors about all your health concerns."

Dr. Charlotte Rotbøl Bøje, from the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark presented her findings at the 31st conference of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO 31).

She and her colleagues analyzed a national database of all Danish head and neck cancers diagnosed between 1992 and 2008, a total of 12,956.

Investigators learned that 44 percent of these men and women had at least one co-morbidity present at the time of their cancer diagnosis. The median age of people in the study was 62.

The most common additional health issues were hypertension, chronic pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Rotbøl Bøje said that physicians need to take these conditions into account when developing a treatment plan for elderly folks who have oral cancer.

"Our analysis has shown how important it is to take a multidisciplinary approach to cancer in the elderly," says Dr. Bøje, "particularly when recruiting them into trials. They will often have other medical conditions that need to be treated, and the design of trials needs to take this into account."

She concluded, "We believe that an accurate assessment of co-morbidities before starting treatment in elderly patients is essential in order to decide on the best and most appropriate treatment for this patient group."

Despite the fact that about half of all cancers appear in patients 70 and older, very little research is conducted to focus on the special needs of this age group.

Dr. Rotbøl Bøje and other presenters called for a new emphasis in geriatric cancer research to keep pace with the worldwide demographic trends.

All research is considered preliminary before it's published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2012
Last Updated:
July 25, 2012