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Research May Provide Insights Into Best Treatment of Elderly Cancer Patients

Research May Provide Insights Into Best Treatment of Elderly Cancer Patients

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."

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