New studies examining chemotherapy regimens for elderly patients with
breast and lung cancer and data showing significant
underrepresentation of the elderly in major clinical trials were
discussed at a press conference at the 34th Annual Meeting of the
American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"Increasingly, cancer researchers are realizing that we must
improve our understanding of the treatment needs of elderly cancer
patients. The studies reported here are important steps forward in
this field," said Frank Haluska. MD, PhD, of Massachusetts
General Hospital, who served as moderator of the press conference.
More Research Needed
Half of all new cancer cases occur in people over 65 years old, and
yet a growing body of evidence shows that elderly patients are
chronically underrepresented in clinical trials. It has been
presumed, moreover, that older patients cannot handle the aggressive
chemotherapy used in younger patients, given that the elderly
commonly have concurrent illnesses. But because there has been so
little data on the effects of standard treatment regimens on older
patients, physicians are often forced to make decisions about patient
care in the absence of clear scientific evidence.
"These studies document the fact that elderly patients are less
frequently enlisted as research participants than are younger
patients. They also demonstrate that special considerations may apply
in planning cancer treatment strategies for elderly patients, since
these patients may either suffer increased toxicities from treatment,
or may display unexpected benefits. Taken together, these abstracts
underscore our need for an enhanced focus on cancer therapy for the
elderly," said Dr. Haluska.
"These findings are also especially relevant as Americans live
longer lives," concluded Dr. Haluska. "Additional research
is needed to provide insights into how best to treat an aging population."