Thousands of elderly cancer patients “written off“ : Leading UK charity

A leading UK charity said over 14,000 lives a year could be saved if elderly cancer patients were not "written-off" as too old for treatment.

According to Macmillan Cancer Support, older patients were falling victim to "age discrimination" and too often denied treatment on the grounds of their age, without their fitness levels being properly assessed as also their likelihood of benefiting from treatment.

Ciaran Devane, the charity's chief executive, said, the barriers to getting treatment – which included age discrimination and inadequate assessment methods, needed to be tackled now so that more older people could survive cancer and live longer.

According to the charity, if UK mortality rates from cancer are matched with those in the US, 14,000 lives a year could be saved among those aged 75 and over.

Devane added, it was wrong to write-off older people as too old for treatment.

The comments come as new research from the charity and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) revealed that of thousands of pensioners who had been diagnosed with cancer had survived for at least a decade.

Over 130,000 people in the UK had survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 65 or above, according to the charity. This included over 8,000 patients who are diagnosed at the age of 80 and over.

However, despite the large number of older people who were "long-term" survivors of the disease, according to the charity, many patients in the UK were being denied treatment as they were deemed to be too old.

According to a spokesman, for many common cancers - including prostate, breast, lung, stomach, ovary and kidney cancers - the UK and Ireland had a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe.

The charity said health workers needed to ensure treatment decisions were not based on age alone and that a patient's physical and mental well-being was also assessed.

It was wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment, Devane said.

He added, with proper assessment and appropriate treatment, their research had shown that many older cancer patients could live a long time and could even be cured.