With the right treatment, over 65s can survive for many years after cancer – yet UK survival rates in older people are among worst in Europe
More than 130,000 people in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at 65 or over, according to new research by Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).
This figure shows that, with the right care and treatment, over-65s in the UK can live for many years after cancer. However, if UK survival rates in this age group were not so poor this number would be even higher. Macmillan believes too many older patients in the UK are being assessed on their age alone and not their overall fitness.
The research, which is the first of its kind, also reveals that there are more than 8,000 people alive today who have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed at 80 or over.
There are almost twice as many long-term (10-20 years) female survivors who were diagnosed at 80 or over as there are male (5,481 compared with 2,995).
Gerald Shenton, 78, from Staffordshire says:
‘I was first diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2000, and I am still here 13 years later, although I’ve suffered from every side effect in the book. I never really had any aftercare because I have always been treated as end stage. I was turned down for a possible treatment twice, being told unofficially that it was because of my age, although I did finally get some good emotional support through my hospital.’
A recent international study showed that for many common cancers (such as prostate, female breast, lung, stomach, ovary, kidney, non-Hodgkin lymphoma) the UK and Ireland have a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe, and the gap is generally greatest for patients over 75. For example, the survival rate for lung cancer in the UK and Ireland is 9% worse than the European average for adults aged under 45, but 44% worse for those aged 75 or over.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
‘It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment. With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured.
‘While it’s good news that so many older people are benefitting from treatment, many thousands more could live longer if our survival rates for over 65s matched those in comparable countries.
‘The barriers to getting treatment – which include age discrimination and inadequate assessment methods – must be tackled now so more older people can survive cancer and live for many years.’
Dr Mick Peake, Clinical Lead of the National Cancer Intelligence Network, says:
‘It is vital that all patients receive the best and most effective treatment based on the nature of their cancer and their fitness for treatment and that chronological age alone is not the deciding factor. We know that cancer survival rates in older patients in many other countries are better than in the UK and ensuring optimal treatment at all ages is the way of tackling this issue.’
Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on all health providers in England to:
1. Adopt assessment methods that test a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing to ensure treatment decisions aren’t based on age alone.
2. Give health professionals the time and resources to complete specialist training in elderly care to ensure services are accessible and provide the best quality care irrespective of age.
3. Establish links with the voluntary sector, social services and teams specialising in dementia, falls and continence and address any medical, social, emotional or financial issues that may be preventing an older patient taking up treatment or that are impacting on their quality of life either during or after treatment.
No one should face cancer alone.